Survey reveals government support to businesses need to be simplified and extended

The fourth weekly Suffolk Chamber of Commerce survey into how its members are responding to the spread of the COVID-19 virus suggests that the promised government schemes to assist businesses need to be both simplified and extended to include more types of companies.

The survey, conducted yesterday (Wednesday, April 1), showed that 73% of the 143 respondents had applied or were planning to apply to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which provides employees with up to 80% of their salaries whilst furloughed.

In all 56% were applying for deferred VAT and Income Tax, 35% were expecting to benefit from business rates relief and 31% ether had applied or would be applying to the Coronavirus Business Interruption Scheme (CBILS), providing loans from banks to help businesses.

However, the experience of the companies in accessing funding from these schemes was indifferent, with nearly 70% saying that the process was not at all easy or not very easy.

Furthermore, the restrictions of many of the schemes, including the Job Retention Scheme and CBILS, has meant that self-employed directors are not covered at all. Given the higher than average percentage of such companies in Suffolk, this is having a serious negative impact on the viability of a significant segment of the Suffolk business community.

Otherwise, this latest Suffolk Chamber survey reinforces the grip that COVID-19 has on the immediate prospects of its members, with immediate cashflow worries growing, with 89% worried about lost income over both the short and medium terms, compared with 86% last week.

This rises to 90% (up from 87%) in the event that the COVID-19 pandemic continues over the next two to three months.

In addition, 55% were facing access issues to domestic customers (44%) and 16% were facing access issues to and overseas customers (14%).

Paul Simon, Suffolk Chamber’s head of communications and campaigns, said: “These figures suggest that, whilst well-intentioned in its endeavours, the government needs to speed up the responsiveness of its various business assistance schemes. In particular, we are lobbying the government urgently to revisit the CBILS scheme both to ensure that lenders offer such loans alongside their own commercial products and to widen it to allow self-employed directors to apply.

“We hope that the government will listen to the experiences of Suffolk businesses, and those elsewhere in the country, and are hopeful that some progress will be made during this evening’s announcements.”

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