British businesses are urging the UK government to provide greater clarity on its roadmap out of lockdown as firms continue to suffer due to continued COVID restrictions.
The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), which represents tens of thousands of companies in the UK, has written to MPs seeking updates on a number of key issues.
It has called for the government to outline more details on the practicalities of reopening, including what social distancing rules will be in place at each stage of the roadmap, and clarity on potential legal issues surrounding vaccinations.
The government has set out four tests which must be met at each stage of the roadmap out of lockdown to allow the phased reopening to happen.
They are that the vaccine deployment programme continues successfully; evidence shows vaccines are sufficiently effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths in those vaccinated; infection rates don’t risk a surge in hospitalisations (which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS); and the assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new variants of concern.
The BBC has asked the government how it plans to assess its four tests to determine if the roadmap will be followed, including providing regular updates on progress against the tests so businesses can plan ahead.
Currently the government has said it will announce seven days before each phase is due to happen whether the tests are being met and the reopening can proceed.
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The organisation added that ministers must also find a way to work “much more closely” with the devolved administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland on a collective route out of lockdown.
This in particular is due to the fact that a lot of businesses operate across these borders, which makes planning their restart more complex.
It follows a recent BCC survey of more than 1,100 firms at the end of January, which revealed that the majority (55%) of firms were looking to access finance over the next twelve months.
Of these, almost two out of three (63%) are doing so to support their cashflow, while just 28% said they are seeking access to finance to invest in products, research and development, or equipment.
The data also showed that a quarter of UK firms describe their current level of debt as either “unmanageable” or “high and manageable”, rising to 32% for consumer-facing firms like those in the hospitality and retail sectors.
Almost a third (32%) of all respondents admitted that they saw write-offs relating to COVID-19 lockdowns or restrictions in the last twelve months.
Of the firms reporting write-offs, the mean average approximate financial value was just over £61,000, while the median average was £5,000.
Out of the 527 micro firms surveyed - businesses with less than 10 employees or sole traders - some 34% said they saw write-offs relating to COVID-19, lockdowns or restrictions in the last twelve months. The mean average approximate financial value of these write offs was £28,500.
“The route back to a full reopening of the economy is still a long way off, with continued uncertainty about whether, and when, the roadmap steps will be met,” Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith, president of the BCC, said.
“Far too little has been revealed about how the Government is assessing its four tests on the roadmap for businesses to accurately judge whether it will happen as planned.
“The timescales for some firms to get ready are already short. Others will be holding out for decisions to be made around issues like international travel and tourism to finally give them hope for the future.
Andrew Coggings, managing director of Goodwood Estate, said: “For all three lockdowns, all food and beverage outlets across the Goodwood Estate have had to write off substantial amounts of drink.
“The most recent lockdown cost us far more money in getting rid of food and drink as compared to previous lockdowns.
“Across all of our various outlets at Goodwood, there is no doubt that it has cost us a minimum of £10,000 each time that we go into lockdown and at Christmas it was probably £15,000.”
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