March 23 coronavirus update for businesses

LEP chair urges businesses to seek support

Steve Fogg, the chair of the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership is urging businesses to access the support packages in response to the Covid-19 crisis before looking to make redundancies.

He said: ''What initially began as a public health emergency is rapidly becoming an economic emergency and I would urge Lancashire's businesses to ensure they access those support measures for which they are eligible, especially the Job Retention Scheme.

''I am pleased the Government has listened and responded to the growing concerns of businesses who fear they will be unable to continue to pay their employees and are fighting for their long-term survival. I hope that the measures announced, whereby the government will pay up to 80% of wages, will give some degree of comfort for both businesses and individuals who have been adversely affected as a result of Covid-19 restrictions, providing some economic security.

''There has naturally been a focus on the impact of the social distancing and isolation on the retail and hospitality sectors – and rightly so. The restrictions in place will have a more immediate effect on businesses operating within these sectors. However we must not forget all of Lancashire's businesses, irrespective of the sector they are operating in. The announcement will help all businesses as will the extension of the interest free period on the previously announced Business Interruption Loan Scheme.

''Small and medium sized businesses are the lifeblood of the Lancashire economy and their long-term sustainability is vital for the economy as a whole and for the livelihoods of our residents. The preservation of jobs and businesses is essential if we are going to recover from this crisis. I therefore welcome the introduction of the Job Retention Scheme and urge businesses to access this to minimise job losses."

Blackpool Council launches dedicated helpdesk

Blackpool Council has set up a dedicated helpdesk to support local businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.

The helpdesk will help businesses to understand and access the £330bn package of rescue measures announced by the Chancellor earlier this week – including temporary loans, rate relief and cash grants to help meet ongoing costs.

Cllr Simon Blackburn, leader of Blackpool Council, said: “The impact of the escalating coronavirus pandemic on the business community is on an unprecedented scale. Over the past few days we have already witnessed the temporary closure of a number of our businesses.

“The emergency measures announced by the Chancellor are welcome. But if businesses are to get the financial support that they need right now, many will need help in understanding how they can access the support package.

“Our business support team have a wealth of experience and along with our business rates team, they will be there to try to help our business community get the support they so desperately need.”

Network Rail promises to keep key services running

Tim Shoveller, managing director of the North West and Central (NW&C) region of Network Rail, said: "Our role in Britain’s Coronavirus response is clear - to keep key workers, including in the NHS and emergency services, as well as food, fuel and medicine moving safely as together we rise to this challenge.

“We are planning carefully and supporting our railway colleagues, especially those in critical frontline roles, as we all work together to support Britain in its hour of need. The West Coast main line is the Backbone of Britain, the artery connecting London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow. We must keep it open to ensure vital supplies and key workers get where they're needed. And that is what we will do."

Rotherham Taylor advises managing costs

Rebecca Bradshaw, director at Preston-based Rotherham Taylor Limited, said: "The next few months are going to be very difficult even with the measures that the government is taking and businesses need to review their current arrangements and seek professional advice to ensure they have solid foundations from which to build on once this crisis has subsided.

"It is important, first and foremost that businesses take steps to protect their staff members and should by now have prepared a coronavirus policy to keep staff, their families and customers safe. This must be communicated with staff as soon as possible. By putting a robust plan in place, that takes in considerations such as home working or double shifts, businesses can extend their operations through the pandemic.

"Firms also need to think about reducing all non-essential costs in the business and financial outgoings as quickly as possible, Regrettably, at some point, for some businesses, it may become necessary to cut staffing levels to those necessary to meet current or expected sales levels. In light of this, employers should review their existing employment contracts and consider varying terms and conditions such as negotiating amended hours, salary reductions or unpaid leave with staff. Firms may also be able to ask some staff to take any holidays now.

"Unfortunately, it may come to a point, despite the best efforts of a business, where businesses need to make redundancies and it is important at this stage that businesses consider the costs involved in doing this and think how they can be managed."

MHA Moore and Smalley recommends seeking tax help

Tony Medcalf, tax partner at MHA Moore and Smalley, said: “It’s absolutely critical that small and medium-sized businesses engage with HMRC as soon as possible, rather than waiting to see how they will be affected.

“When HMRC launched Time to Pay following the 2008 banking crisis, they were a lot more accommodating than many businesses thought they would be, and we were able to help many businesses negotiate later payments. Business owners should now be seeking professional advice on negotiating with HMRC to agree their tax deferment and repayment plans.”

"This is very tricky situation for businesses to be in, but there will also be opportunities when this is over. Businesses need to go on a war footing immediately and make sure they take advantage of all the support available to be able to come out the other side."

More on coronavirus

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