The weekly business survey has proven to be a vital tool in understanding how firms are coping during this uncertain and unprecedented crisis.
A significant number of those surveyed expressed a readiness to restart working operations once the government eases lockdown restrictions.
Polling this week was conducted between 5-8 May prior to the Prime Minister’s roadmap announcement and partial easing of lockdown restrictions and the launch of safe workplace guidance and the chancellor’s announcement on the extension of the Job Retention Scheme.
Capability to restart working operations
- 89% stated that they require three weeks or less to re-open
- 75% said they would be able to implement social distancing measures
- 70% stated they could make provisions for remote working, with 20% saying this was not applicable for their business
- 61% said they could stagger arrival times, with 29% saying this was not applicable to their business
- 71% of business have furloughed a portion of their staff
- 73% of those surveyed up from 59% on the previous week, 7% of respondents who’d submitted a claim more than six working days ago are yet to receive payment
- 63% said they could remove staff from furlough to return to work and 36% currently were unable to
Bounce Back Loans
- 36% of those surveyed have attempted to access BBL’s or had plans to do so
- 62% had no intention of applying
- 19% of firms stated they had concerns about repaying the loan, however, this figure rose to 28% among those with less than 3 months’ cash in reserve, and fell to 14% for those with more than 3 months’ cash in reserve
Capability to restart working operations
One of the key messages which emerged from this week’s tracker was that overall businesses now feel confident they will be able to return to working operations once given the all-clear from government.
On Sunday Boris Johnson urged firms, where it is both safe and where employees cannot work from home to return to work. Over the next few weeks we anticipate that many businesses across Shropshire will be mapping out ways to re-open their businesses for the beginning of June in line with the ‘first phase’ of the government’s ‘roadmap’.
Nearly 90% of those surveyed stated they require less than 3 weeks to re-start working operations, highlighting the confidence firms have in getting back to work once they’re able to. Last week over two thirds of business-to-business service firms said they required one week or less notice to re-start.
Furthermore, this week three quarters of those surveyed expressed that they felt confident they would be able to implement social distancing measures. It is hoped that businesses are able to follow the latest government guidance on how to ensure workplaces are safe for employees to return to.
Firms have been telling government that support must adapt, but that they’re ready to embrace the ‘new normal’. A new ministerial-led task force has been created to plan how those sectors who’ve been unable to operate during the crisis can slowly re-open.
The vast majority (70%) have also said that they would be able to have remote working for staff. The social media giant Twitter announced today that employees would be able to work from home ‘forever’ signalling a first step in move to ‘a new normal’ which could see many others follow suit. As businesses across Shropshire and the UK adapt to the current situation it is likely that we will see a significant amount of firms shifting a larger proportion of their workforce to remote working, even once lockdown measures are eased. It is important that government continue to support those firms who’ve moved to remote working operations and provide them with useful information to succeed in this new environment. The government have urged those who can do so to continue to work from home and it is expected that they will encourage many to do so for a significant amount of time.
The proportion of those furloughed has stayed relatively unchanged over the past three weeks with, 71% of firms stating some level of furlough this week compared to 74% last week. In Shropshire our survey found that 77% of firms had furloughed some or all of their staff.
Around 7 and a half million people’s jobs are now being funded in some way by The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which the Chancellor announced this week will continue until the end of October. This news is welcomed by the BCC network who understand the importance that this scheme has played in preventing millions of people from becoming unemployed.
Fortunately, of those who were surveyed and had furloughed staff, nearly three quarters had now received payment via the Job Retention Scheme up from 12% on the previous week, 80% of Shropshire businesses surveyed by The Chamber felt confident that due to the Scheme they would be able to operate moving forwards.
It is hoped that this installs some confidence into struggling firms across Shropshire, including a number of the counties hospitality and leisure businesses which may encounter decreased activity if, as is expected social distancing measures remain in place for a significant amount of time.
Luckily, the BCC’s results indicate very few businesses have made redundancies and more than half of those surveyed said that they would be in a position moving forward to release staff from the furlough scheme and bring them back to work.
Worryingly, 19% of firms surveyed expressed concerns about repaying the loan, something which our members have directly mentioned to us, the figure rises to 28% where those firms have stated they have less than 3 months’ cash in reserve. Despite the loans being a vital life-line for struggling businesses many do not feel comfortable having to take on further debt in such an uncertain time. Lobbying group UK Finance said that (as of the middle of last week) over £5.5 Billion of loans had been paid to SME’s, with 69,000 BBL applications being processed within the first day of the scheme going live.
BCC Director General Adam Marshall called upon the government to look at making loans to the smallest businesses grants or for these loans to be written off after a significant amount of time.
It is important to comment on the latest ONS report which was released this week which shows the UK economy shrunk by around 2% over the first three months of the year. Following the publication of the report the Chancellor warned that the UK is facing a ‘significant recession’. However, both The Bank of England and The OBR have predicted a sharp economic bounce-back, with the economy stablishing by the middle of next year.
As we move forward and approach the beginning of the government’s first phase of re-opening the economy Shropshire businesses need clear, careful and considered support to ensure they’re able to operate as successfully as possible through this ever-evolving crisis.