The latest survey into how businesses are responding to Coronavirus/COVID-19 by Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, indicates that businesses are preparing to reopen, but social distancing and how government support schemes will work going forward, remain concerns.
With the Coronavirus/COVID-19 lockdown now ongoing for eight weeks, and with Prime Minister, Boris Johnson expected to lift some restrictions this Sunday,, Suffolk businesses are starting to think about reopening.
The results of the latest survey show that 45% of businesses could reopen immediately, with an additional 31% of businesses saying they would need less than one week to prepare. Therefore, 76% of respondents believe they could be open within seven days of Boris Johnson’s announcement, and only 4% would need longer than three weeks.
Despite the encouraging signs that businesses could reopen quicker than anticipated, many will not be working at full capacity, mainly because 70% of respondents have furloughed staff with 93% being furloughed for at least three weeks.
This suggests that businesses that do reopen will be doing so on reduced numbers of staff, yet it is unlikely that usual staffing levels will be required while some aspects of social-distancing, working from home, and safety measures continue.
With the largest recession in UK history now anticipated, it will take some time before consumers and businesses alike, return to usual trading activity.
To date, many businesses have now accessed the government support schemes, but with reopening the economy now becoming the priority for businesses, many are concerned about how government support will continue in its current form, most noticeably the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
As shown, a large proportion of businesses that reopen will be doing so on reduced staffing numbers but to ensure firms have the confidence to reopen and boost cash-flow, many will require an extension to the furlough scheme beyond June.
This includes adding flexibility so that some staff could return on reduced hours.
One business owner said: “A change to the furloughing scheme to make it more flexible would be helpful, this would allow us to bring back staff on a part-time basis”.
Further to this, businesses will want to know how government support will work if another temporary lockdown is needed.
Andy Walker, Head of Policy at Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, added: “It’s great that so many businesses can reopen at such short notice, but many will require the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to prevent redundancies in the short-term. Extending the scheme will give businesses a huge confidence boost and aid cash-flow at a time when economic activity will be severely reduced.”
Businesses were also surveyed about how they would like to see the government handle the re-opening of the economy, and a majority of firms expressed a desire for all businesses to be reopened but gradually, which would include social distancing, reduced hours and increased safety/hygiene procedures.