Commenting on Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement of a new, tiered approach to local Coronavirus restrictions in England – and following the introduction last week of deeper restrictions in other nations of the UK, BCC Director General Adam Marshall said:
“Intensified restrictions will be a real blow to business and public confidence at a delicate time for the economy. Firms have put hard work and precious cash into making their businesses Covid-secure, and must be allowed to operate unless there is overwhelming and clear evidence to the contrary. Businesses cannot be subjected to a rollercoaster of stop-start restrictions with no end in sight.
“Speculation and rumour have badly eroded trust between Westminster, local government, and our businesses communities. At a time when clarity and transparency are critical, local business leaders must be more deeply involved in decision-making, so that the real-world consequences for livelihoods and communities are understood. The introduction of any new restrictions must go hand-in-hand with the appropriate level of financial support, both now and into the future.
“Above all, businesses need to see an exit strategy to prevent economic paralysis. Mass testing, faster processing and proportionate financial support for those forced to self-isolate are crucial to supporting businesses and communities in the months ahead.”
Below are comments from around the Chamber network.
Liverpool Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Paul Cherpeau said:
“Businesses across Liverpool are bewildered, frustrated and angry. A week of speculation and rumour has badly damaged confidence. Businesses need to understand the clear evidence for the restrictions that are now being imposed – as many have worked so hard to become Covid safe.
“Whilst our visitor economy will bear the brunt of these new restrictions, the percolating effect on supply chains is hugely concerning, in addition to the psychological impact upon our citizens, business owners and investors. It is imperative that the commencement of these measures coincides with an adequately funded and swiftly distributed package of financial support alongside a clear exit strategy for when these new measures in our city region will be lifted.
“Liverpool businesses and communities have been resolute in rebuilding confidence and prosperity since the original lockdown, with innovative developments between public and private sector such as the ‘Liverpool Without Walls’ initiative. Our City’s exciting Economic Recovery Plan will grow our local economy and stimulate jobs and investment but we must preserve our existing ecosystem to ensure the strongest possible base exists upon which our recovery can be built and be successful.”
St Helens Chamber Chief Executive Tracy Mawson said:
“St Helens Chamber is clear that business can’t be switched on and off like a tap. Business owners have invested in operating safely and should be able to continue to do so, maintaining the economy and our local jobs. These short-term measures devised in Westminster don’t sit well in the real world when business owners need confidence and employees need their jobs to remain.
“Every business is now concerned about future restrictions. We are calling for an effective track and trace system plus proper financial support for people who have to self-isolate and for all firms affected by employees unable to go to work and reduced trading conditions.
“While local firms have been extremely supportive of the need to lockdown in the past, we need more clarity and transparency at this stage, and confidence that the real-world consequences for our Members and communities are understood. Imposing these restrictions with a reduced financial support provision is a slap in the face to our wide Membership of small independent businesses whose livelihoods are on the line.
“We need to know the route-map to recovery for all sectors, and a guarantee that our vital manufacturing and logistics firms are able to keep operating and not become subject to a roller-coaster of restrictions.”
Black Country Chamber Chief Executive Corin Crane said:
“Businesses are doing everything in their power to survive and we desperately need government to offer a proper strategy that includes substantial financial support evidence for businesses that may now face devastating restrictions.
“There is an increasing feeling of chaos and confusion with this constant stream of leaked announcements and policy proposals without evidence to back them up. Speculation and rumour have badly eroded trust between Westminster, local government and our business communities.
“Once again there is little evidence of consultation, leaks in the press before any details are available and businesses and their staff will spend the days ahead trying to figure out a way forward with little detail to work on.
“We must do everything possible to avoid another catastrophic economic shutdown and those affected areas must continue to seek some surety from national government that if they hit some of the milestones they can come out of Tier 3 very quickly. Mass testing with a reliable track and trace system is imperative.”
Mr Crane added, “Key sectors, especially those in the hospitality sector and those serving it will be damaged and many will suffer long-term damage or close for good,” he added, “If pubs, bars and other hospitality and leisure businesses are forced to close, there must be appropriate support for them and their staff.
“When it comes to ‘levelling up’ Britain, ministers should focus on people as well as places in order to create a stronger, fairer and more resilient economy.”
Sheffield Chamber of Commerce Interim Executive Director Alexis Krachai said:
“Over the weekend the Council reached out to Sheffield Chamber and other business groups to make sure our views were taken on board as they discussed what to do next with Whitehall. We welcome that involvement. Sheffield Chamber stands ready to help the Council make those difficult decisions but it is vital that the Government listens and ensures the support for businesses are there not matter what tier we are in.
Today’s announcement by the Prime Minister is just another set of decisions made in the long war against Covid. We must now redouble our efforts to keep fighting this virus whilst keeping our economy open and we, and other business groups, will continue to work with the Council in ensuring as much support is available for our businesses.”
Greater Birmingham Chamber of Commerce CEO Paul Faulkner said:
“Based on today’s announcement, it appears hospitality sector businesses in ‘high alert’ areas will be forced to weather a further fall in customers – without any of the (albeit limited) support reserved for businesses required to close.
“Concurringly, the Prime Minister made no mention of how or when ‘high alert’ areas would have their conditions reviewed. The devil, as always, in the detail – we await its urgent release.
“The support offered to businesses during the first wave of the pandemic was unprecedented – but it is being withdrawn at just the moment it is so needed in areas facing additional measures. The Government must not to throw away the jobs and businesses that have been saved so far by failing to step up now.
“Businesses have had enough of short term, reactive measures and policy via leaks to the press. The Government must deliver a clear plan for COVID and roadmap for supporting the most impacted businesses – both through the immediate autumn and winter crisis and into recovery next year.
“Hospitality businesses have invested millions of pounds across the sector in COVID secure measures to reduce the risk of transmission in their premises. Local contact tracing data for Birmingham indicates that just 2% of transmission has taken place in hospitality settings. Safety and savings lives is key but we remain deeply concerned about this sector being unfairly penalised and in turn, the knock on impact that this could have on the economy, unemployment & mental health and wellbeing.”
Suffolk Chambers of Commerce Head of Communications & Campaigns Paul Simon said:
“That Suffolk is in an area designated as Tier 1 will provide some breathing space for our business community, especially those companies in ‘at risk’ sectors such as hospitality.
“But with COVID-19 infection rates in the East rising steeply, it is absolutely imperative that the Government sorts out the test and trace system once and for all. With over six months to get it right, it is extremely worrying that Suffolk firms could once again be forced to close and pay the price for the Government’s failures in this regard. No amount of fiscal support – very welcome though the many schemes have been – is a substitute for a functioning UK economy.
“Suffolk Chamber expects the Government to start mapping out a clearer strategic response to the pandemic, working with local councils, and to stop relying on stop and start responses that only serve to sap business confidence and energy.”
North East England Chamber of Commerce Policy Director Jonathan Walker said:
“It is welcome news that for the time being businesses in our region are not being closed. However, we are deeply concerned that significant additional support to get on top of this crisis appears to be linked to an agreement to move to Tier 3.
“Government needs to be working with local leaders and providing areas with the resources to prevent them from being escalated to a higher tier. Test and trace is simply not up to the job at the moment and must be rapidly improved.
“Businesses are being put through intolerable and constant pressure about whether they are going to be asked to close at short notice. This is not acceptable. They need to be consulted with by national and local Government to ensure we all work closely to combat this pandemic. This will also allow us to play our part in getting the important messages out to our local communities.”