Chambers of Commerce challenge PM to meet five business tests for Covid restrictions

Phil Smith
Managing Director | Business West
18th October 2020

In a letter to the Prime Minister, British Chambers of Commerce Director General, Dr Adam Marshall, BCC President Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith and Chamber CEOs from across the United Kingdom set five business tests that must be met to limit the impact of Coronavirus restrictions on businesses and jobs and take a long-term approach to tackling the pandemic.

Dear Prime Minister,

We write on behalf of business communities the length and breadth of the UK at this critical point in our evolving battle against the Coronavirus pandemic. 

Our starting point is clear: no amount of financial support can compensate for an open, fully-functioning economy. 

Yet with increasing, tiered restrictions – and with more severe ‘circuit breaker’ restrictions under consideration or underway – the situation for business grows graver by the day.

While the recent announcement of an enhanced Job Support Scheme will assist some firms, Chamber members tell us it will not be enough to stave off mass redundancies and business failures. Enhanced support must be given to those facing the indirect impacts of restrictions and closures – in supply chains, tourist destinations and town and city centres. This is particularly the case for businesses in ‘high’ / tier 2 areas, where firms are technically able to open but where demand has been hit dramatically due to government restrictions. Chambers are clear that any new restrictions must go hand-in-hand with truly commensurate financial support for wages and day-to-day running costs.

The UK needs a strategy that allows us to avoid economic paralysis and to manage the impact of the virus on our communities over the longer term. Business throughout the country have worked incredibly hard to implement

Government guidance and create a Covid-secure environment for their employees, visitors and customers. The need for additional restrictions cannot be blamed on a lack of care by dedicated employees in businesses across the country.

Instead, it demonstrates the failures of short-term decision-making and of Test and Trace systems, which must be urgently improved and expanded. 

The British Chambers of Commerce have devised five business tests that must be met to limit the impact of new restrictions on businesses and jobs, and take a long-term approach to tackling the virus. Failure to meet these tests now will put the future of the economy and the country at risk.

1. Are the restrictions evidence-based and targeted effectively?

• There is a strong body of expert opinion that the proposals will be effective, are necessary and are targeted effectively. 

• The medical and scientific material and advice which inform decisions (including options not followed) is published without delay along with those decisions.

• There are no ways in which the restrictions have a disproportionate effect on business or are counterproductive. For example, some businesses tell us that they would rather be closed by order under Tier 3, due to the design of the current support on offer, than have to close because restrictions have destroyed demand in a Tier 2 area. 

• Bearing in mind the significant steps businesses have taken to become Covid-secure, they allow as many businesses as possible to remain as open and operational as possible.

• There is strong co-ordination between HM Government, Devolved Administrations, Mayoral Combined Authorities, Local Authorities and others, including businesses.

2. Are the restrictions clear and do businesses have time to prepare? 

• Business communities have been consulted on the design of the restrictions.  

• There is clarity on which businesses are affected, how, and when.

• The changes have been communicated clearly, so that each business can understand the implications for them and their (geographically diverse) supply chains and workforce.

• There is consistency of messaging across local and national government, and enforcement agencies are clear from the get-go about new rules and how they should be applied.

• Businesses have been given time to prepare for the change.

3. Is support for businesses commensurate with the impact on them?  

•  Financial support that adequately compensates businesses for the damage caused by restrictions and prevents business failures is in place. The July model of the furlough (CJRS) scheme, built up to include the many previously exempted businesses, is the starting point for this.  

• Adequate support is available both for those businesses directly impacted (e.g. forced to close) and those indirectly impacted (e.g. supply chain, fall in demand).  

• Cash flow support is in the form of grants or easements (e.g. reduced VAT), rather than just additional forbearance or more debt. 

• Support packages are set for the longer-term period, at least 12 months, giving businesses the certainty they need to plan ahead. Ideally, businesses should be able to plan now for the entirety of 2021.

4. Will the time that the restrictions are in place be used to significantly improve the Test, Trace and Isolate system?  

• Test, Trace and Isolate will be improved during the period of the restrictions for all areas, with a clear plan to meet the necessary standards to manage the disease (in terms of coverage, speed of response and effectiveness of tracing and isolation). In particular:

- link more recognised and approved tests to the NHS test and trace system. No test is perfect, but rapid testing with follow-ups where required would help keep businesses and schools open and operating. It would also help our airports and restore key business connections around the world; 

- use the government’s purchasing power to drive down testing costs for private employers.  With clear standards and procurement at scale, frequent low-cost testing could be introduced in workplaces of all sizes and sectors; 

- harness private sector and university partners to rapidly increase test-processing capacity;

- share the load. Resources and responsibilities should be devolved to local and regional level in order to increase effectiveness of the system.

5. Is there a clear process for increasing and decreasing restrictions?  

• The relevant communities understand what the test will be for introducing, increasing, removing or limiting the restrictions.

• There is clarity over the metrics being applied (e.g. is the key test the R rate, hospital admissions, etc?), review points and the likely length of time restrictions will be in place. 

• There is a road map for exiting the restrictions, for each area affected, agreed with local stakeholders, and a shared consensus of how it will be achieved.

Over the critical weeks ahead, these tests must be met – to avoid serious damage to business and consumer confidence, and potentially catastrophic economic consequences. We must preserve our economy in the immediacy, while

also laying the foundations for future growth. Failure to support viable businesses now will undermine any broader efforts to ‘level up’ left-behind parts of the UK.

The Coronavirus is not going away anytime soon. Governments must waste no more time in setting out a clear strategy to keep the economy functioning, while protecting public health over the long term.

In the interests of business communities across the United Kingdom, we would ask you to respond within seven days, setting out how current and proposed restrictions will meet these tests. 

Yours sincerely,

Dr Adam Marshall - Director General, British Chambers of Commerce

Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith CBE - President, British Chambers of Commerce

Russell Borthwick - Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce

Valerie Russell - Ayrshire Chamber of Commerce and Industry

Andrew Denniff - Barnsley & Rotheram Chamber of Commerce

Justin Richardson - Bedfordshire Chamber of Commerce

Corin Crane - Black Country Chamber of Commerce

Phil Smith - Business West Chambers of Commerce

John Bridge OBE DL - Cambridgeshire Chamber of Commerce

Kim Conchie DL - Cornwall Chamber of Commerce

Louise Bennett OBE DL - Coventry & Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce

Rob Johnstone - Cumbria Chamber of Commerce & Industry

Stuart Elford - Devon and Plymouth Chamber of Commerce

Daniel Fell - Doncaster Chamber of Commerce

Ian Girling - Dorset Chamber of Commerce & Industry

Alison Henderson - Dundee and Angus Chamber of Commerce

Miranda Barker - East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce

Scott Knowles - East Midlands Chamber (Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire)

Liz McAreavey - Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce

Denise Rossiter - Essex Chambers of Commerce

Alan Mitchell - Fife Chamber of Commerce

Stuart Patrick CBE - Glasgow Chamber of Commerce

Paul Faulkner - Greater Birmingham Chamber of Commerce

Clive Memmott OBE - Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

Ross McNally - Hampshire Chamber of Commerce

Sharon Smith - Herefordshire & Worcestershire Chamber of Commerce

Briege Leahy - Hertfordshire Chamber of Commerce & Industry

Stewart Nicol - Inverness Chamber of Commerce

Steven Holbrook - Isle of Wight Chamber of Commerce

Jo James OBE - Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce

Simon Beardsley - Lincolnshire Chamber of Commerce

Paul Cherpeau - Liverpool & Sefton Chamber of Commerce

Richard Burge - London Chamber of Commerce and Industry

Martin Hathaway - Mid Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce

Chris Sargisson - Norfolk Chamber of Commerce

Babs Murphy - North & Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce

James Ramsbotham CBE DL - North East England Chamber of Commerce

Louise Wall - Northamptonshire Chamber of Commerce (inc. Milton Keynes Chamber)

Ann McGregor - Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce & Industry

Bob Grant - Renfrewshire Chamber of Commerce

Louisa Harison-Walker & Alexis Krachai - Sheffield Chamber

Richard Sheehan - Shropshire Chamber of Commerce

Stephen Henagulph - Somerset Chamber of Commerce & Industry

Heather Myers - South and Mid Wales Chambers of Commerce

Paul Colman - South Cheshire Chamber of Commerce and Industry

Tracey Mawson - St Helens Chamber

Sara Williams - Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce

John Dugmore - Suffolk Chamber of Commerce

Louise Punter - Surrey Chambers of Commerce

Ana Christie - Sussex Chamber of Commerce & Enterprise

Paul Britton - Thames Valley Chamber of Commerce Group

Sandy Needham DL - West & North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce

Debbie Bryce - West Cheshire & North Wales Chamber of Commerce

Paula Basnett - Wirral Chamber of Commerce

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