How have businesses dealt with the COVID outbreak?
It has been an incredibly difficult time for most businesses. Although it is tempting to think that the main sector affected is hospitality we are all part of a business eco-system and the whole supply chain has been massively affected.
What help is there on a local level for small businesses?
The availability of the furlough scheme and the extension of it has been a lifeline for those businesses with employees. The Self-employed support scheme has also, after a slow start, been a big help to the self-employed but there are a number of businesses that have fallen through the cracks. Many small businesses live and breathe their product or service and when times are good they pay themselves in dividends but when times are tough they take nothing out of the business. These passionate entrepreneurs have not been so well-supported with the 2 schemes above not applying to them. The other support available to businesses was in the form of grants based on the rateable value of their buildings. Many businesses take space in serviced offices so have not received any grants due to the fact they are not registered as ratepayers. There has just been some new funding announced which could extend out to those not yet supported but the details are yet to be announced by local authorities.
Do you think of Guildford Borough Council’s response to the pandemic?
Guildford BC have been very strong in getting information into the business community and paying out the initial grants based on rateable values. They have also worked closely with the other Surrey Boroughs and Districts to share best practice through this crisis, which none of us has experienced before.
What is Surrey Chamber of Commerce doing to help businesses?
We have been running webinars to explain government schemes, bringing specialists to answer specific questions. We have sent out newsletters twice a week with updates as well as keeping our Coronavirus hub up-to-date. We have also been speaking to hundreds of businesses to help them understand the support and to stop them feeling alone. We have been feeding into government stories of real businesses and how they are being impacted, which has led to some changes of schemes and policies to benefit businesses. We have also been meeting regularly with Chambers all across the country to share best practice and support each other.
We have set up a Kickstart Gateway to help businesses to take on less than 30 kickstart placements under the government scheme. This is where the government pays for a six-month minimum wage placement for a 16-24 year old and the business has the chance to train that young person for future employment, whilst gaining an extra pair of hands. A real win-win solution for businesses struggling with cash flow and young people struggling to find meaningful work.
There is also a peer to peer scheme for leaders of businesses to gain coaching from trained facilitators and peer support from other businesses in groups of 10. This a great opportunity to get help in solving a business’s problems.
How can people support local business?
Buy Local as a minimum, which starts with consumers buying local but goes right through the supply chain so that every stage of the supply chain buys local.
What is your message to business people in Surrey, who may be struggling at this time?
Don’t feel alone. Talk to us at the Chamber and if we can’t help you we will definitely be able to signpost you to someone who can. Consider one of the guaranteed government loan schemes, which have now been extended to end January 2021.
Ed is a designer, business owner, environmental campaigner and Councillor representing Ash Wharf on Ash Parish Council