New lockdown will be 'devastating blow' for Shropshire firms, business leader warns

Fresh lockdown will be a "devastating blow" to firms which have adapted to the Covid world, according to a business leader.

A quiet Shrewsbury town centre during the first coronavirus lockdown in March
A quiet Shrewsbury town centre during the first coronavirus lockdown in March

Ruth Ross, the Shropshire Chamber of Commerce’s director of business, said that many firms that have spent time and money on making premises safe would feel like there is no way out.

She said: “Business confidence has been hit in recent months by the stop-start approach from the government, and there will now be a feeling that there is no end in sight.

“Most worrying of all is the fact that many Shropshire firms are in a much weaker position this time than they were at the start of the pandemic – either from a cashflow point of view, or because they have used up anything in their reserves.

“This will make it far more challenging to survive extended closures or demand restrictions – particularly in the run-up to what, for many businesses, is the most important and lucrative time of the year.”

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Pubs, bars, restaurants and non-essential retail across the nation will close from Thursday, the Prime Minister announced on Saturday, and people will be told to stay at home unless they have a specific reason to leave.

Ms Ross said that despite the "devastating blow" of a new lockdown, the temporary extension of the furlough scheme would bring short-term relief to many firms.

Shropshire Chamber of Commerce director of business, Ruth Ross

It will have some differences to March in that these measures will be “time-limited”, starting on November 5 and ending on December 2.

Ms Ross said: “Sustained help must be available to employers, to the self-employed and to the many businesses and individuals that have not been able to access any of the government’s schemes to date.”

Shropshire chamber also said it was vital for the government not to squander the time afforded to them through another lockdown to enable mass testing and fix test and trace systems.

Ms Ross said: “It is becoming increasingly clear that this holds the key to a lasting exit strategy for both public health and the local economy.

“We will be examining the detail of new restrictions and support carefully over the coming days, together with chamber business leaders across the country.

“Business communities will judge them on whether they are clear and evidence-based – and on whether businesses are able to see when these restrictions may come to an end.”

'Sustained help must be available'

The chamber's chief executive Richard Sheehan said: “There’s no getting around the fact that these new restrictions will be a devastating blow to business communities who have done everything in their power to adapt and operate safely.

“Business and market confidence have been hit hard by the unclear, stop-start approach taken by Governments across the UK over the past eight months, with little end in sight. Many firms are in a much weaker position now than at the start of the pandemic, making it far more challenging to survive extended closures or demand restrictions.

“The temporary extension of the furlough scheme will bring short-term relief to many firms, and responds to chambers’ call for business support to be commensurate with the scale of the restrictions imposed.

"While there is no substitute for a functioning economy, the full financial support package for businesses facing hardship, whether through loss of demand or closure, must immediately be clarified and communicated. Sustained help must be available to employers, to the self-employed and to the many businesses and individuals that have not been able to access any of the government’s schemes to date."

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