Business West fears ‘shattering’ impact of government’s second, month-long lockdown

November 2, 2020

The new lockdown measures announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson over the weekend will be devastating to many Swindon firms despite their best efforts to make themselves Covid-safe, the region’s largest business organisation warned today.

Most businesses will have to close from Thursday as the country enters its second lockdown, with staff being urged to work from home where they can. 

Non-essential shops must close, and bars and restaurants will only be able to offer a take-away service.

The new restrictions, which will last until at least December 2 – and possibly longer – mean Swindon’s hospitality venues, many of which have only just reopened after investing in social-distancing and anti-virus measures, will once again have to close.

With a ban on all-but-essential travel and the closure of most hotels, Swindon’s visitor economy and tourism and transport-linked businesses will also suffer. 

The warning of the dire consequences for firms and the economy from Business West – the organisation that runs the Swindon & Wiltshire Initiative – was echoed by the director-general of the CBI, which is staging its virtual national conference today, while the chair of the South West Institute of Directors said the national lockdown would put great strain on an already fragile business community.

Business West managing director Phil Smith, pictured, said: “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 extension to the government’s furlough extension was welcomed – the network of chambers of commerce had been pressing for it, he said.

“However, business costs are not just limited to employees’ wages,” he added. “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 December 2 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.” 

Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, pictured, the CBI’s outgoing director-general criticised the government’s handling of the lockdown announcement at the weekend, saying firms could not act on the basis of “speculation and leaks and surmise”.

She also said the government should provide financial support “for the duration” of the crisis, with particular help for areas such as aviation.

South West Institute of Directors chair Muir Macdonald, pictured, said: “Controlling the virus is crucial for the economy in the long run and we must work together do the right thing,  but these measures will put great strain on an already fragile business community. 

“The decision to reinstate furlough is absolutely the right one, and the announcement should bring relief to many businesses. Directors will be eager for clarity on the employer contributions, as we are now returning to circumstances much like the start of the summer.”

He said with the return of restrictions, gaps in government support needed to be addressed. Small company directors who had gone without support throughout the crisis should be helped through local authority grants.

“Many of our members in the South West are SMEs or micro businesses and we know from talking to them that they have been frustrated by the number of gaps they have fallen through,” he said.

“Our hospitality and tourism sectors have been particularly hard hit and now face closing again at another peak time for business in the run-up to Christmas, which is especially hard after investing considerably into making their venues as safe as possible.

“When we emerge from these restrictions, directors will want to see the test and trace system firing on all cylinders. This could be a key weapon in the fight against the virus, but it hasn’t hit its target yet. The Prime Minister’s emphasis on this is welcome, but the results on the ground will matter most.”





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