BCC: UK firms ready to embrace ‘new normal’

UK firms are ready for a gradual reopening of the economy but will need continued, adaptable government support during a phased return to work, according to the latest British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) Coronavirus Business Impact Tracker.

The seventh tranche of polling was conducted from May 5-8, prior to the Prime Minister’s announcement on a roadmap to gradually ease lockdown restrictions in England and the launch of safe workplace guidance, and the Chancellor’s announcement on the extension of the Job Retention Scheme until the end of October. 

The vast majority of respondents continued to report high levels of readiness to restart operations as and when the government eases restrictions, with 89% requiring three weeks or less to reopen.

This week the survey revealed new information about whether businesses were prepared to implement measures to protect staff and continue operations during the ‘new normal’ as restrictions are eased.

The tracker found that 75% of firms agreed they could implement social distancing measures with 70% agreed they could make provisions for remote working, with 20% saying this was not applicable to their business.

A further 61% said they could stagger arrival times, with 29% saying this was not applicable to their business.

Data from this week’s tracker also indicated that 71% of businesses surveyed have furloughed a portion of their staff, which remains consistent with previous weeks.

The percentage of respondents that have submitted a claim to the government’s Job Retention Scheme and received payment remains high, at 73% this week, up from 59% last week. Only 7% of respondents submitted a claim more than six working days ago and are yet to receive payment. Our results indicate that very few businesses have not made any redundancies.

The furlough scheme continues to provide crucial support to businesses and is helping them to avoid redundancies. A total of 63% of firms agreed they could un-furlough staff as restrictions begin to ease, but 36% said they could not.

Fieldwork was conducted before the Chancellor announced the extension of the furlough scheme until the end of October.

Over a third (36%) of respondents have either attempted to use the Bounce Back Loan scheme or have plans to access it.

However, 62% of respondents said they had no intention of applying for a Bounce Back Loan. Reasons for not attempting to access the scheme varied between firms with more than three months in cash, and those with less than three months.

Overall, 19% of firms stated they had concerns about repaying the loan. However, this figure rose to 28% among those with less than 3 months’ cash in reserve, and fell to 14% for those with more than 3 months’ cash in reserve.

Commenting on the results, Dr Adam Marshall, BCC director general, said: “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.

“The government should continue to listen to business and evolve the scheme in line with what’s happening on the ground. Further, phased support may yet be needed for companies who are unable to operate for an extended period, or those who face reduced capacity or demand due to ongoing restrictions.”

On the announcement of workplace guidance, he added: “Government guidance signals big changes for the way that many businesses operate, and some firms will now need time to plan and speak to their employees so that they can return to work safely.

“Alongside this guidance, businesses urgently need clarity on the future of government support schemes, which must be adapted to help those firms who need to remain closed for an extended period or face reduced capacity or demand.”

 He continued: “The Bounce Back Loans scheme has made an encouraging start and will provide help for smaller businesses that are struggling to stay afloat.

“However, as our research reveals, many smaller, cash-strapped firms are unwilling or unable to take on more debt. Government must therefore be ready to further expand existing grant schemes to ensure that as many businesses as possible get access to the support they need.”

  • Read all of our articles relating to COVID-19 here.
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