Written by: Keith Tully
Businesses across the UK are ready to engage in a gradual restarting of the economy but they will need sustained support from the government to safely navigate the process.
That’s the sense taken from research carried out recently by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), which has been tracking sentiment among SMEs throughout the coronavirus crisis and the associated lockdown.
Huge numbers of companies have been sustained in part by the government-backed jobs retention scheme, with 70 per cent of respondents to the BCC’s surveys saying that they’ve furloughed at least some parts of their workforce.
A large majority of respondents said that being able to furlough staff with government help has prevented them from making redundancies.
It was announced this week that the government intends to continue supporting furloughed workers via the job retention scheme until the end of October this year.
“The Job Retention Scheme has been successful in its aim to protect livelihoods and its extension will come as a huge help and a huge relief for businesses across the UK,” said BCC director general Dr Adam Marshall.
Asked about their readiness to restart, a large majority (89 per cent) of businesses told the BCC that they would need no more than three weeks to get back up and running.
Around 75 per cent of companies said they can implement social distancing measures and 70 per cent said they can make provisions for remote working as part of a transition to ‘new normal’ conditions dictated by the coronavirus outbreak.
Staggering start times among employees is another policy being considered among employers, with 61 per cent saying they may look at having staff start work at different times if it is potentially positive from a health and safety perspective.
Another set of developments being tracked by the BCC are those associated with the Bounce Back Loan Scheme, which provides 100 per cent government-backed loans worth between £2,000 and £50,000 to SMEs whose finances have taken a hit due to the virus.
Just over a third of respondents to the BCC’s surveys said they have or are considering applying for a ‘Bounce Back’ loan but 19 per cent of firms said they’d be worried about having to pay back any money they borrowed through the scheme.
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