FSB urges greater clarity

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Next week’s lifting of Covid restrictions will bring much-needed relief to England’s small businesses, but clarity over Government guidance is “urgently needed”.

That’s the assertion of FSB national chair, Mike Cherry, who said: “Reopening on the 19 July will come as a huge relief especially to those who have been closed or restricted during most of the pandemic, including those in the nightlife sector as well as events and hospitality.

“We’ve waited a long time for this moment, and we need to see the economy restart and rebound as soon as possible. There is no greater way to support businesses than a strong economic recovery.

“But small businesses want to see the new guidance being proposed by the Government, to replace the legal rules, and the proposed ideas for voluntary certification and mask use in crowded indoor settings. While we all want this moment to be irreversible, there is a potential for a challenging winter and so this summer needs to be a season of strong, safe trading. So many businesses have craved this since the start of this crisis and the stop-start restrictions.

“We are asking the public to please respect the ‘House Rules’ that small firms put in place for covid-security. Small business owners and their staff deserve to be able to work free from intimidation and we would ask everyone to please respect that businesses are trying their best, and to treat those who run and work in them with respect – as we know the vast majority of the public will do. So if table service continues, or you’re asked to keep using face masks then we ask you to please respect these decisions.

“Crucially, safe operation will not be possible without clear workplace guidance. We want to see small businesses able to make the choices and decisions that will benefit them the most as they get back on their feet, while protecting the health of their workforce as well as customers.

“We want all small businesses and their customers to feel safe in how they shop and operate, and this includes allowing small businesses the space to make the right decisions about their premises. We cannot allow removing legal guidance to create a free for all, with any voluntary guidance ignored, which is why it is vital that clarity around the new state of play is given immediately.

“The cost of this pandemic has been colossal. The economic burden small businesses have shouldered has been unparalleled in modern economic history. Yet despite all the success of reopening and the vaccination programme, next Monday is not a ‘terminus date’, we are moving into a new phase of managing Covid-19 but there remain very strict rules in place around self-isolation and international travel which will have a severe impact on many businesses, with potentially hundreds of thousands unable to carry out their day-to-day work and firms struggling to operate at all. The Government should investigate whether there is scope to safely ease isolation requirements sooner than planned for those who are fully vaccinated.

“Firms are now facing the prospect of repaying loans and VAT deferrals, all while support is beginning to be withdrawn. We are still waiting for the Government to deliver promised rates support to suppliers, alongside £1 billion of restart and additional restriction grants that should have reached firms months ago via councils.

“We are on the verge of a strong and successful recovery this summer, but if we are to prevent further anguish as the year unfolds, action must be taken swiftly to support the small businesses that are the backbone of this economy.”