Firms are ready to embrace a ‘new normal’ but Government support must adapt, is the message from the latest BCC Coronavirus Business Impact Tracker.

Results from the latest British Chambers of Commerce survey reveal that firms are ready for a gradual reopening of the economy but will need continued, adaptable Government support during a phased return to work.

The leading business organisation’s weekly tracker poll, which serves as a barometer of the pandemic’s impact on businesses and the effectiveness of government support measures, received 601 responses.

The seventh tranche of polling was conducted from May 5-8, prior to the Prime Minister’s announcement on a roadmap to gradually ease lockdown restrictions and the launch of safe workplace guidance, and the Chancellor’s announcement on the extension of the Job Retention Scheme until the end of October.

The vast majority of respondents continued to report high levels of readiness to restart operations as and when the Government eases restrictions, with 89% requiring three weeks or less to reopen.

This week the survey revealed new information about whether businesses were prepared to implement measures to protect staff and continue operations during the ‘new normal’ as restrictions are eased.

  • 75% agreed they could implement social distancing measures
  • 70% agreed they could make provisions for remote working, with 20% saying this was not applicable to their business
  • 61% said they could stagger arrival times, with 29% saying this was not applicable to their business

Businesses furloughing employees 

Data from this week’s Tracker reveals that 71% of businesses surveyed have furloughed a portion of their staff, which remains consistent with previous weeks.

The percentage of respondents that have submitted a claim to the government’s Job Retention Scheme and received payment remains high, at 73% this week, up from 59% last week. Only 7% of respondents submitted a claim more than six working days ago and are yet to receive payment. Our results indicate that very few businesses have not made any redundancies.

The furlough scheme continues to provide crucial support to businesses and is helping them to avoid redundancies. 63% of firms agreed they could un-furlough staff as restrictions begin to ease, but 36% said they could not.

Fieldwork was conducted before the Chancellor announced the extension of the furlough scheme until the end of October.

Bounce Back Loans Scheme 

Over a third (36%) of respondents have either attempted to use the Bounce Back Loan scheme or have plans to access it.

However, 62% of respondents said they had no intention of applying for a Bounce Back Loan. Reasons for not attempting to access the scheme varied between firms with more than three months in cash, and those with less than three months.

Overall, 19% of firms stated they had concerns about repaying the loan. However, this figure rose to 28% among those with less than three months’ cash in reserve, and fell to 14% for those with more than three months’ cash in reserve.

Commenting on the results BCC director general Dr Adam Marshall said: “The Job Retention Scheme has been successful in its aim to protect livelihoods and its extension will come as a huge help and a huge relief for businesses across the UK.

“The Government should continue to listen to business and evolve the scheme in line with what’s happening on the ground. Further, phased support may yet be needed for companies who are unable to operate for an extended period, or those who face reduced capacity or demand due to ongoing restrictions.”

On the announcement of workplace guidance, he said: “Government guidance signals big changes for the way that many businesses operate, and some firms will now need time to plan and speak to their employees so that they can return to work safely.

“Alongside this guidance, businesses urgently need clarity on the future of government support schemes, which must be adapted to help those firms who need to remain closed for an extended period or face reduced capacity or demand.”

And on On Bounce Back Loans: “The Bounce Back Loans scheme has made an encouraging start and will provide help for smaller businesses that are struggling to stay afloat.

“However, as our research reveals, many smaller, cash-strapped firms are unwilling or unable to take on more debt. Government must therefore be ready to further expand existing grant schemes to ensure that as many businesses as possible get access to the support they need.”