Drop the platitudes and address the problems

December 7, 2020

It was quite the reversal when Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme would be extended until March 31, 2021. Nevertheless, while providing employers with extra breathing space, there are, says the Federation of Small Businesses, significant gaps that remain in the support network, particularly for the self-employed, which the Government must tackle with haste.

The extension of the furlough scheme will give employers a much-needed injection of confidence heading into a disrupted festive trading period.

The extension of the Self Employment Income Support Scheme too, for those eligible, was another welcome step. Across the North East, this support has delivered £131 million in funding to the self-employed, giving those that have claimed a grant of £2300.

The only fly in the ointment on the extension of the furlough scheme was the impact on those who were planning their approaches with an eye on the job retention bonus.

For those that had factored the bonus into future plans, this has meant financial projections have had to be re-forecast and investment decisions delayed.

Constantly changing policies only add to trading and operational uncertainties, and we have seen a massive rise in members reporting considerable mental health challenges. Until we have more certainty, these challenges won’t go away.

There are also still too many gaps in the business support that is being offered to the wider business community. Too many new business owners, sole traders, company directors and entrepreneurs without business premises are largely excluded from existing measures.

We need to see a shift in Treasury thinking that recognises the real contribution these businesses make.

For example, the 122,345 sole traders in the North East contribute £6.8 billion to the economy. We need to move beyond the platitudes and start addressing the problems.

The Treasury needs to develop separate support schemes for every group currently ineligible. Those that were ineligible because they didn’t have a tax return in 2019 now do, and should be included.

The difficulties the Treasury has raised in helping company directors are not insurmountable, however.

Nationally, we are working on how solutions could work and will be presenting them to the Chancellor. It’s not just Government support where we need to see changes though.

The extension of the Bounce Back Loan Scheme is welcome, but far too many businesses are still struggling to make applications as lenders keep their doors shut to new customers.

Businesses across the North East will lead the recovery of the economy, both regionally and nationally.

Collectively, we all need to back them to do just that.

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