The third weekly Suffolk Chamber of Commerce survey into how its members are responding to the spread of the COVID-19 virus suggests a steady increase in most issues, with worries about ongoing lost income the overriding concern of the respondents.
The survey, conducted yesterday (Wednesday, March 24) over a few hours, showed that 98% of the 176 respondents were being affected by the spread of COVID-19, compared with 92% the previous week and 64% for the week before that.
Of these, 45% were struggling with the availability of staff (up from 38%), with the severity of other issues remaining broadly the same over this period: 34% were experiencing supply chain problems (35% the week before), 44% were facing access issues to domestic customers (42%) and 14% were facing access issues to and overseas customers (17%).
Suffolk firms are overwhelmingly concerned about their cashflow situation, with 86% worried about lost income over both the short and medium terms.
The survey also recorded an improvement in the usefulness of government communications to businesses, with 41% saying it was either extremely or very useful, compared with 31% and 30% in previous weeks.
But although government announcements are clearer, there is an urgent need for them to be followed up by detail and delivery.
Suffolk businesses are asking for greater clarity on the implementation of the “furlough” arrangements within the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme which will allow employers to furlough staff and recoup 80% of their salaries up to £2,500.
In addition, there is an urgency for the funds from the Coronavrius Business Interruption Loan Scheme to be released sooner rather than later to maintain business cashflow security.
All those self-employed respondents who replied with more detailed comments urged that they receive financial support from the government.
Paul Simon, Suffolk Chamber’s head of communications and campaigns, said: “The impact of COVID-19 on Suffolk plc is now universal. Whilst the government has both stepped up the effectiveness of its messaging and launched a range of welcome initiatives to ensure businesses can continue trading by boosting their cashflow situations, we now need to see those words translated into actions with immediate effect.
“Questions need to be answered and the level of bureaucracy needed to administer these schemes needs to be cut back to an absolute minimum to protect these companies and protect jobs.”