The government is facing growing calls to do more to support companies through the challenges posed by a second national lockdown.
Business representatives have welcomed the extension of the furlough scheme to spring 2021, but say uncertainty is only adding to difficulties, preventing firms from being able to plan. They say further financial assistance will be needed to weather the storm.
The hospitality sector has been hit hard by the lockdown restrictions, which were introduced in March and again in November, and Bristol Hoteliers Association (BHA) argues the furlough extension is not enough to cover ongoing costs for many businesses.
BHA chair Raphael Herzog argues extension of the furlough scheme is the least the government can do.
“We still have to retain staff to keep our buildings secure, to answer the phones and deal with enquiries, maintain the grounds and ensure that the hotels are regularly cleaned,” said Herzog.
“We will have no revenue coming in, yet we have to pay for the staff and that’s not even thinking about all the other regular outgoings, like maintenance and building contracts, electricity, pumps for the pool and so on. The £3,000 a month grant is simply not enough to cover our costs.
“This uncertainty and lack of clarity make it very difficult for us to plan ahead, so any further support that we can get from the Government will be a huge help towards giving our businesses a better chance of surviving.”
Bristol City Council’s Labour leadership is also demanding “much-needed support” to save jobs, protect businesses and help the city build back better, arguing national assistance for workers, businesses, and the self-employed is falling short.
In a motion going before full council on Tuesday, November 10, Helen Godwin, Bristol’s cabinet member for women, families, and homes), is calling on councillors to back the plan set out by former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown and backed by trade unions.
“The last-minute extension of the furlough scheme is welcome but with firms having already laid off workers during weeks of uncertainty, national support for workers, businesses, and the self-employed is still falling short,” said Godwin.
“People will continue to fall through the cracks and things will only get worse if the government freezes the minimum wage. So too if ministers carry on failing to keep their promise to do ‘whatever it takes’ to support councils like Bristol and around the West.
“Our area needs to speak with one voice to call on the government to do everything needed to invest to save jobs, protect businesses, and build back better.”
Speaking on behalf of the region’s business community, Business West managing director Phil Smith said the recent announcement from Rishi Sunak will provide “significant reassurance over an uncertain winter”, but added that many businesses still need more clarity.
He called for the government to set out longer-term measures over the next 12 months to give firms greater certainty and confidence to plan proactively, rather than to react to changes in support from week to week.
Smith added: “As well as support on jobs, reduced demand will impact firms’ cashflow across the country, not just those placed under the toughest restrictions. More generous grants will be required if those businesses are to weather a difficult winter ahead.
“Despite the chancellor’s announcement, there are still many businesses and individuals who have, through no fault of their own, been unable to access any government support since the start of the pandemic and will require support if we are to avoid significant increases in unemployment and business failures.”
Main photo courtesy of Radisson Blue