Businesses react to news of second national lockdown

By Nick Batten on 3 November, 2020

In response to Boris Johnson’s recent announcement that England would be entering a second national lockdown this Thursday, The Business Exchange contacted some local business leaders to hear their thoughts on the situation. This is what they had to say…

Paddy Bradley, CEO of Swindon and Wiltshire Local Enterprise Partnership (SWLEP) 

“We know a further lockdown will be difficult for society at large and will weaken further our country’s overall economic performance.  The extension to the furlough scheme is to be welcomed, but we also need to see as comprehensive a support plan for the self-employed as for the employed.

“Organisations such as ourselves working in the business support sector will be able to help businesses through these trying times, working together in the best interests of our area.  As was shown in the first lockdown, collaboration is the key to building a resilient economy, developing innovative solutions to major structural problems and being ready to take advantage of a more benign environment in the not too distant future.”

Ruth Lambert, Development Manager for Somerset & Wiltshire at the Federation of Small Businesses

“Small businesses have followed the guidance, protected the health of their staff and customers, and invested in making their business COVID-safe.

“Saturday’s announcement, however necessary, will inevitably leave many small firms facing the bleakest winter they have ever seen and the second deep recession in twelve months. Urgent clarity is needed on how small businesses and the self-employed will be supported through this.

“For the first wave lockdown, FSB encouraged the Government to create financial support schemes for businesses based on three principles – to be as generous as possible, to be as accessible to as many people as possible, and to be as swift as possible. 

“We will now need the government to match this scale of ambition, incorporating lessons learned from earlier this year – a second wave support package to offset the impact of a second wave of restrictions. This will help the country’s small businesses to make it through to the spring and be able to drive the recovery.

“This should include a new set of small business grants worth at least £10,000 each – including for those in the supply chains of the hardest-hit sectors.

“Alongside greater use of grants, there should be an extension of emergency loans – including both the application period and allowing a second application for those who originally applied for a lower amount in Bounce Back Loans than they were entitled to.

“On the extension of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), there must be swift confirmation that the 80 percent of salaries for those furloughed will be publicly funded, and whether the employer will continue to cover the cost of employer National Insurance Contributions and auto-enrolment pensions. In addition, emergency measures are required to make it less expensive for those who can to hire people.

“There should also be an increase to the self-employment support grant, and its scope should be widened to include those left out of previous support packages, such as the newly self-employed and company directors.

“During the first lockdown, the government provided reliefs on Business Rates in England, which are a heavy up-front cost for many businesses. Now that the second wave of this crisis will continue into the spring, there should be a 100 percent Business Rates suspension at least for those with a rateable value below £25,000, and help for those with a rateable value up to £51,000 and beyond.

“Already small business confidence was at rock bottom, with our latest quarterly index finding two thirds (66%) expecting performance to worsen during the rest of the year. The new England-wide restrictions will inevitably worsen this yet further. It is therefore more important than ever to support small businesses and the self-employed through this so they are still there to provide jobs and growth out the other side.

“Small firms have been drained of resource at a time when many will want to take steps to adapt to the changing nature of our relationship with the EU. Adapting to the new arrangements will incur costs for many small businesses, therefore the government should commit to introducing transition vouchers worth £3,000 each to help small firms cover these extra costs.”

Phil Smith, Managing Director of Business West

“The facts are clear – something different is required if this virus isn’t going to overrun the country. 

“The impact of a month’s restrictions on businesses will ripple throughout the economy and will be shattering for those forced to close. 

“Many companies have worked hard to make their workplaces and services COVID-safe. So, as necessary as this seems to be, it will be a bitter disappointment to all and ruinous for some. 

“The furlough extension is welcomed and the Chamber network has been pressing for this. However, business costs are not just limited to employees’ wages. Rents, rates, taxes and leases, etc. all keep coming – even if your sales are down or worse still stopped altogether and we are looking for the Chancellor to provide additional financial support to businesses.  

“The 2nd December lockdown exit date is clear, but it’s obvious that the Government will need to extend the lockdown if these new restrictions do not work.” 

Tim Major, Account Manager, Swindon Chamber of Commerce 

“The new restrictions will be a devastating blow to our business community. Having spoken to many of our members over the last eight months, participated and hosted a series of crucial webinars and roundtables, including those for the hospitality sector, we will continue to work tirelessly to ensure the voice of our members is heard by policy decision-makers. We want to put politics aside and find practical and applicable ways to reduce the impact of this pandemic on the livelihoods and health of our community. Our focus remains on ensuring that businesses can operate safely, and goods can continue to move locally and internationally. The new national restrictions, combined with changes at the UK’s borders in the weeks ahead, are testing the business communities’ resolve.

“As part of the national Accredited Chamber network, we have been working with our colleagues to protect businesses throughout these incredible difficulties. The British Chambers of Commerce are, quite rightly, demanding answers from the Government on many areas, including its call on the financial package for businesses facing hardship, whether through the loss of demand or closure.

“During the start of the pandemic, we created a robust and comprehensive online business support hub that allowed our community to access an array of information and advice quickly. The hub is being updated daily and should be the first port of call for those looking for support and guidance.”

Councillor David Renard, Swindon Borough Council

“News of a second national lockdown is bound to be worrying for many businesses but I am confident that Swindon will bounce back in its resilient fashion. Support will be available for businesses on both a national and local level and further announcements are expected in the coming days.

“Adhering to the guidance and restrictions is incumbent upon all of us to help get the virus under control and protect our NHS and emergency services. It’s important that we all pull together to get through these challenging times and keep ourselves and one another safe and well.”