Restart, Rebuild, Renew

Wed, May 6th, 2020

Alison Lobb, Chair of Policy Committee, Liverpool Chamber:

Alison Lobb, Chair of Policy Committee, Liverpool Chamber

Whilst the COVID-19 pandemic causes immense public health and economic challenges, much of the discourse in this past week has focused upon the impending ‘restart’ phase of the economy. The Prime Minister set the tone for this focus in his address to the nation at Thursday’s press conference, promising a plan for restart and recovery over the coming days.

The Chambers of Commerce have worked with members and other associations, both nationally and locally, to help bring the key practical issues to the attention of government.

As we tentatively move into the restart phase, my thoughts as Chair of the Chamber’s Policy Committee, from the perspective of a business like ours and those of many businesses in the Liverpool City Region, are focussed upon the issues we are concerned about and need appropriate reassurance.

1. Tapering support relief at an appropriate rate

There will undoubtedly be a lag when work is being done but payment not being made, placing cashflow pressures on businesses for some time beyond lockdown. In order to facilitate this and avoid redundancies:-

  • There will need to be a required extension and adjustment to the furlough scheme, or an alternative support system, to enable a phased return to work where necessary.
  • There will need to be a real focus upon delivering appropriate and bespoke triage support provision for businesses emerging into ‘the new normal’ economy, regardless of what sector of business they operate within.

2. Schools and childcare

It is all very well saying businesses can return to work, but many people will be unable to work effectively (or at all) unless children return to full time school. Again:

  • How can an amended furlough scheme (or new initiative) cover those employees until full time school resumes (or make up part time wages if children return to school part-time or in age related phases, which is likely)
  • Will there be any alternative support that can be offered to cover childcare costs for employees (if such childcare is available) or for employers to provide temporary facilities?

3. Clarity of guidance to employers to mitigate risks

It is essential that businesses in all sectors receive clarity about what measures need to be taken, whether through social distancing, provision of PPE, testing of employees, risk assessments.

It is important to learn lessons, and avoid the confusion caused in the initial phases of lockdown by mixed messages from government regarding what businesses can and cannot do. As well as assisting businesses with planning this should also alleviate concerns about claims against employers if the virus is contracted in the workplace. There is also a real concern that if there is no firm guidance companies will interpret it themselves and create their own version of the “rules”, leading to a risk that unscrupulous employers could benefit over more ethically-run businesses, by putting their employees and customers at risk.

4. Payment terms for taxation

There is a clear need to establish when any deferred payments such as VAT will fall due and whether these can be staggered, otherwise many businesses will just have been deferring a cashflow crisis. A strong and healthy dialogue between businesses and government – nationally and locally – can help ensure that our tax system avoids crippling our businesses cash reserves further.

5. A clear strategy and ability to move swiftly back to lockdown where necessary.

A big concern personally is the prospect of a sudden attempt by businesses and the general public to try to return to "normal" leading to a second wave of infection spikes and a consequential economic dip. Coming out of lockdown is one issue, the need to have the agility to move in and out of lockdown is another.

6. Supporting the ‘Forgotten 5%’

We need to know whether any consideration has ever been given to the "forgotten 5%" - which includes the self-employed who earn just over the £50,000 threshold for income protection support.

The arbitrary setting of this threshold has caused many businesses a great deal of additional concern. At Morecrofts for example we have not been eligible for any support other than the furloughing scheme and like many businesses within the current climate, are unwilling to take on additional debt. We are living within our means, but that ramifications of that may affect our business growth and ability to create jobs, for years to come.

Whilst economic shocks can cause immense distortion of the market and we should positively acknowledge the unprecedented levels of support quickly provided by government, I do find it troubling and distressing that businesses such as ours do not get the level of support that successful and positive contributions to the economy for over 200 years should engender. Many other professional services’ businesses will be in the same position. Focus upon the ‘Forgotten 5%’ within restart and recovery is vitally important.

7. Co-creating solutions

Businesses are such an important part of our country’s recovery. Whether formally attached to a trade association like the Chamber of Commerce or not, the voice of business must be heard to enable concerns, issues or opportunities to be properly represented within the impending year ahead.

As Chambers across the country respond to the local needs of their business community, local businesses can share their views and needs for the restart and recovery period with the Chamber. Call or email policy@liverpoolchamber.org.uk

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