Chamber’s chief executive welcomes ‘unprecedented’ initiatives by the government to help businesses

The second weekly Suffolk Chamber of Commerce survey into how its members are responding to the spread of the COVID-19 virus reveals a deepening and widening in the impact of the epidemic.

However, the “unprecedented” actions of the government yesterday, Friday, March 20, has raised some hopes to initially reassure employers which were welcomed by John Dugmore, chief executive, Suffolk Chamber of Commerce.

Last week the chamber repeated its call for the government to be more ambitious in its business bailout plans.

The survey, conducted on Wednesday, March 17, showed that 92% of the 146 respondents were being affected by the spread of COVID-19, compared with 64% the previous week.

Of these, 35% were experiencing supply chain problems (43% the week before), 42% were facing access issues to both domestic customers (20%) and 18% were facing access issues to and overseas customers (20%).

There has also been a big jump in the number of businesses struggling with the availability of staff: up from 12% last week to 38% now.

Mr Dugmore said: “Yesterday’s announcement and unprecedented actions, contained many of Suffolk Chamber’s and our national body the British Chambers campaign ‘asks’ of the government.

“Whilst we await the detail, on face value it looks an impressive programme to initially reassure many hard-pressed employers with the aim of giving confidence to thousands of Suffolk businesses to continue trading in the future.

“As with these announcements, some quiet reflection is needed to look over the detail, particularly to understand the 80% salary safety net that government announced and drill down on the detail so it’s clear what is included; wage or full employment costs, as an example.

“But last night’s announcement must be welcomed, the government understands business must continue during these times, as there need be a robust economy when UK plc comes out of this on the other side.

“Therefore we will pour over the detail so we can advise and guide our members, whilst continuing to press for more support, particularly looking at areas such as the county’s very many self-employed and freelancers who it appears on face value, are not getting any direct support to keep their businesses on the rails at a time when much of their income has been put on hold.”

A total of 76% of Suffolk Chamber members have implemented new, more flexible working practices, up from just over half a week ago. Companies offering sick pay to staff who have to self-isolate has risen from 28% 36%, whilst those seeking out new supply chain solutions has grown from 18% to 24%. Most other tactics remain constant.

The overwhelming immediate concerns for these companies remain lost income (82% – up from 72%), possible site premises closure (38% from 30%) and possible cessation of trading (36% from 24%).

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