Firms begin to emerge from lockdown

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Results from the latest BCC Coronavirus Business Impact Tracker reveal that the majority of firms surveyed are in a position to partially restart operations as lockdown restrictions are eased.

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 609 responses.

The eighth tranche of polling was conducted from May 13-15 after the Job Retention Scheme was extended until the end of October.

Encouragingly, the majority of respondents (83%) reported high levels of awareness of the Government’s new workplace guidance as sectors of the economy begin to reopen gradually.

Just over a third (37%) of respondents said that they could fully restart operations by implementing the Government guidance, while 45% said they could do so partially. However, due to social distancing guidelines, it is likely that many firms will see a reduction in demand and will not be able to restart at full capacity.

10% of respondents did not agree that they would be ready to implement guidance and restart operations, mainly citing social distancing as difficult.

Results from this week’s poll continue to show that majority of employers (around 70%) have furloughed a portion of their staff. Cash-poor firms, with less than three months’ cash in reserve, remain more likely to furlough portions of their workforce.

The number of respondents that have submitted a claim to HMRC and received payment is around 85% – a significant increase from last week (73%) and the week before (59%).

The furlough scheme continues to prevent firms having to make redundancies, with very few respondents making any. Employers have welcomed the extension of the furlough scheme in some form until the end of October, and it will be critical to introduce high levels of flexibility if it is to phase employees back into work.

This week’s survey reports encouraging take up of the Government’s Bounce Back Loan Scheme, with over half (54%) of respondents who attempted to secure a loan reporting success, which is an increase compared to last week (26%).

Just over a third (38%) of respondents were awaiting a decision on a loan. This is a decreased from last week (58%).

Commenting on the results, BCC director general Dr Adam Marshall said: “While businesses have welcomed the publication of official guidance on how they can reopen premises and restart operations, some sectors still require greater clarity from the Government on when and how they will be allowed to do so. This is particularly the case for hospitality and leisure companies, which will not reopen before July at the earliest.

“Companies at all levels of readiness to restart, of all sizes, and in every part of the UK will need sustained government support as they navigate the ‘new normal’ with reduced demand and restrictions still in place. Many support schemes will need to be adapted and updated, but must not be withdrawn prematurely.”

On the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme:

“HMRC and the Treasury deserve enormous credit for the successful rolling out of the Job Retention Scheme, which is helping huge numbers of businesses to protect livelihoods.

“But the message from firms on the ground is clear: the furlough scheme must become more flexible if it is to help companies bring employees back to work successfully. Furlough has helped businesses to avoid millions of immediate redundancies – and now must be adapted to help firms keep as many of these jobs as possible as they restructure and reconfigure post-lockdown.”

On the Bounce Back Loan Scheme:

“Our results show that the Bounce Back Loan Scheme is continuing its encouraging start. Yet there are many firms out there who are not in a position to take on debt, so the government must consider further expansion of grant schemes to ensure that as many businesses as possible get access to the support they need.”