The Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is, without exaggeration, the biggest public health emergency for a generation. The health of our families, our colleagues and our co-workers is paramount, but the spread of the virus also presents unprecedented challenge to business.
The South East business community – like so many others across the UK – is facing one of its most challenging times to date.
The impact of COVID-19 has not only created uncertainty for business owners and their workforces, but it has seen them having to react on a daily basis to new guidance, new priorities and new challenges.
We have been working closely with our Growth Hub partners, Chambers of Commerce, FSB, Universities and our Local Authorities to support the regional business community. To do so, we carried out a survey with local businesses to find out how they were being impacted and what support they needed to navigate these unprecedented times.
A picture of current business community challenges
Our survey results showed that over 98% of business operating in the South East are feeling the impacts of disruption due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Survival is the priority for many. Lost income and possible cessation of trading are among the biggest areas of concern, with 72% reporting cashflow, and 63% identifying access to domestic customers, as the most challenging issues.
The majority of those who took part in our survey have found advice from government to be easy to find and useful. Nevertheless, there is a clear appetite for more information, for more support, and for a dialogue with government about businesses that risk falling through the ‘gaps’ in the government’s support package.
At the operational level, almost two-thirds (63%) would welcome support in navigating finance options. This is urgent. Businesses are advising us that, without financial help there will be very little time before they face complete closure – days and weeks rather than months. A further 39% would welcome support with continuing planning – especially in sectors which rely on face-to-face contact with customers, and almost a quarter (24%) need support around staffing issues, having furloughed staff.
Where businesses face permanent closure, evictions, bankruptcy or IVAs, the worry, stress and mental health impacts mean there are serious human as well as economic costs.
To see further detail from our survey you can view the results dashboard.
What are we doing to support the business community?
Given the challenges facing the local business community in recent weeks, the South East LEP is delivering a number of support packages to help local businesses at this most difficult time.
First and foremost, we want to make sure that businesses have access to the right information. Central government has announced an unprecedented level of investment to support businesses at this time. This includes £330 billion being made available to support businesses, including grants, loans and a guarantee to pay 80% of salary for staff who are kept on by their employer, covering wages of up to £2,500 a month, for three months.
One resource for all
The South East Business Hub plays an important role in providing advice and support to SME businesses. SELEP is working closely with the Growth Hub to deliver these services and simplify the route for businesses to understand what this support means for them.
SELEP has a daily briefing communicating to businesses to help them navigate this support and has developed infographics and web resources to help businesses. This is, together with the 1-2-1 advice, available through the Growth Hub.
SELEP is working closely with all partners including chambers, FSB, Universities, innovation centres and our Digital Skills Partnership from the region to collate a repository of online training and webinars on a range of professional and digital services, which can assist businesses through this period of uncertainty and help with business continuity and resilience planning.
Funding and investment options
SELEP is considering additional medium- and long-term initiatives that can be developed, which can best apply its resources to support the economy and its business community. The SELEP Strategic Board will be considering a number of options at its next virtual meeting on 17th April 2020.
Business intelligence and advocate
The role of SELEP is, of course, broader than the provision of support. It is vital that we use our influence to ensure that policymakers at local and national level understand the challenges facing local businesses and the pressures that the coronavirus epidemic has caused.
SELEP is continuing, through its survey and by working closely with the Growth Hub, to gather intelligence from businesses on what is needed by them and is being a voice into government for these issues. We have supported the FSB on calls for support for the self employed and we have worked with partners at DWP to gather clearer information on ways for people to find alternative work in the immediate term.
We ask businesses to continue to share our survey with their networks and supply chain. As businesses are facing challenges day-by-day and having to revaluate priorities, it is important to reflect these changing circumstances.
If business in your areas are facing particular challenges that should be reflected in government’s policy response, or have particular asks of government, we can lend our voice in support of their cause. Please let us know.
Finally, we’d like to thank you for your support and for your work to help strengthen and sustain business across the South East. Your work is vital to the livelihoods of many thousands of people and to the success of our communities – it is more important now than it has ever been. Our bulletins and news updates will be available online in our news section or you can sign up to receive these here.
If you would like to contact SELEP regarding any of your activity or have any queries please email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will respond as quickly as we can.