Plea for more help for businesses as government announces new regional tier restrictions

November 24, 2020

The government has been warned that it cannot “keep switching businesses on and off like a light switch” through Covid-19 related national lockdowns and regional tiers without expecting severe consequences. 

Instead, firms need a plan that keeps them, and the economy, open throughout winter and beyond, according to Business West, the organisation that runs the Swindon & Wiltshire Initiative.

It joined other business groups across the region and nationally in urging the government to do more to protect vulnerable companies as ministers revealed details of the restrictions in new tiers that will replace the national lockdown when it ends on December 2.

Business West managing director Phil Smith, pictured below, said: “It is helpful that the Prime Minister has heeded our call to give businesses at least a week’s notice of the rule changes that will affect firms across England from December 2.

“Businesses in the South West now need to see the detail – and will judge the latest set of Covid rules on whether they are easy to understand and based on clear, transparently-presented evidence.” 

He said businesses needed to know that the new rules would be accompanied by commensurate support, by a significant expansion of mass testing – particularly to workplaces across the country – and by a plan to get the economy fully open again.

“Ministers can’t simply keep switching businesses on and off like a light switch without expecting severe consequences,” he added.

“Covid-secure businesses will be looking to the government for a plan that keeps them, and the economy, open throughout winter and beyond.”

He said the reduction of time in quarantine for international passengers also announced by the government would help to re-establish connections to key markets and trade partners across the world, helping businesses that depended on the UK's connectivity and preserving industries and livelihoods.

The Institute of Directors (IoD) South West director Robert Lloyd Griffiths, pictured below, said while advance information on the new restrictions was welcome, they were still going to be difficult news to swallow for some business sectors, especially the hospitality sector. 

“Opening non-essential retail is certainly a huge boost, as is the re-opening of gyms and leisure centres. The run-up to Christmas will be vital for many companies, many of whom have invested significantly in becoming Covid-secure,” he said.

“It is now imperative that directors ensure their organisations and customers stick to the distancing guidelines.

“However, it’s a blow for the hospitality sector and their supply chains in the region who had no doubt been hoping to get back to some more normal trading, albeit with restrictions.

“That’s why it’s vital the government reinstates and extends insolvency protections until the spring.

“Further grant support and tax deferrals should also be considered, as many in the South West could be facing reduced income for months.”

The IoD also welcomed the prospect of improved testing capacity. “Reduced isolation periods could be crucial for the economy until a vaccine is ready. However, directors will be waiting to see action on the ground before getting their hopes up,” Lloyd Griffiths said.

The CBI said while the positive news on vaccines offered a ray of light for 2021, the next few weeks and months would feel like purgatory for many businesses – stuck in limbo between a national lockdown and a new normal.

Acting director-general Josh Hardie said: “As the crucial festive period approaches, adapting curfew and opening more of the economy will be a boost for many.

“But harsh measures and ongoing closures will continue to risk business failures in many sectors. For firms wondering what restrictions they will face, details of regional tiers must be laid out in detail on Thursday and regularly reviewed in the future.

“Further commitment to financial support will still be needed for thousands of struggling companies – particularly those in higher tiers still looking into the precipice.

“The combined efforts of business, government and society should now focus on helping restrictions ease, not tighten once more. A six-week mass, rapid testing surge could be a game changer. It should be backed with a Christmas that gives much needed family time, while avoiding an economic hangover in January.”

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