Let’s start with the fact that as we go to press the COVID-19 virus is just really taking hold in the UK and a lockdown is underway. So, we can’t avoid talking about it because from a business perspective, over and above the human tragedy, the main thing I have been dealing with is the current effect that it has on our clients.
Firstly, I would say that hopefully every well run business should have contingency plans in place. Sorry to those who know me and who have heard it before, but personally and commercially always have three months money set aside. Please don’t hate me for saying it now, but older airport transfer companies should have learnt from the 2010 eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland which threw ash out and decimated the controlled airspace of Europe, resulting in the largest air-traffic shut-down since World War II. However, I like many people sometimes get it wrong, and hey, it was 10 years ago!
So, let’s look at what should be keeping us awake at night now, and some practical help, I hope.
Firstly, the budget has addressed the issue in part. The initial focus was on the short-term measures needed to deal with the challenges the UK faces as a result of the pandemic. These amounted to a monetary injection offering direct help, which seems to grow with every press conference, with more available if required, but for both businesses and individuals.
For the coming year, statutory sick pay will be available to more people and so will some other social security benefits. Business rates will be reduced or even eliminated for some smaller businesses – at least in the short term.
Small firms will be able to access ‘business interruption’ loans, up to £5million with the first 6 months being interest free. and there will be an improved ‘Time to Pay’ arrangements to help taxpayers affected by COVID-19. Although we still need further details remember this when dealing with HMRC a promise of ‘understanding’ has come from the top. Other immediate support initiatives for smaller businesses include greater access to bank lending, this is worth talking to your bank straightaway and quoting our chancellor now.
The budget was very different, as a result of hurried inclusion of the COVID-19 position. Rishi Sunak did focus on stability and security very early on, together with detailed measures which are very specific to the current situation.
Worst Case Scenario
So now let’s look at preparation for the worst.
Always share your burden. If you have asset finance, contact them as soon as possible and negotiate, and when I say negotiate it is important when dealing with all large corporations, financial institutions and government departments to be the thorn in their side and not let them be the thorn in yours.
There is a story from the old country (Hackney) which tells of a man who was keeping his wife awake by sitting on their bed late at night moaning and wailing. His wife says to him what is the matter, that keeps you awake late into the night? He tells his wife that he owes their neighbour £200 and that he hasn’t got it to give. His wife says to him, that’s an easy one to fix. She opens the window and calls to the neighbour waking him up. She calls to him and tells him that her husband hasn’t got the £200 for him and closes the window. She turns to her husband and says, right now you go to sleep and ley him lay awake worrying. This joke is not a joke though, this is how we should deal with creditors, love and respect them but share the burden!!
the only good thing about a national crisis is that you are not alone, and the economy needs to survive.
There is plenty of advice available for company owners in stressful situations like this, but they usually engender difficult decisions. Th earlier you address it statistically the greater chance of saving the business as a going concern.
You need to plan for reconstruction and recovery. All businesses no matter what size need to make difficult decisions. Most companies in the past that have been saved from insolvency have involved early procedures put in place. Suitably restructured and with a cashflow, means sometimes negotiated debt payments and possibly, unfortunately with a reduced workforce.
Make sure that you are up to speed with government guidance including the COVID-19: guidance for employers and businesses factsheet.
This Budget paper advises what needs to be done if Coronavirus is suspected among any members of staff and details the financial measures that are being made available including:
- Refund for businesses and employers required to access Statutory Sick Pay
- A 100% Business Rates retail discount for one year
- Funding support for those small businesses that pay little or no Business Rates because of Small Business Rate Relief
- The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme
- Mortgage payments will be frozen for 3 months to those in difficulty
- A total of £330 billion for businesses needing cash, no news on sole traders yet
- The Chancellor will report on his meeting with the transport minister today
- The business rates are being suspended
- A statutory sick pay relief package for SMEs
- Small business grant funding of £10,000 for all business in receipt of Small Business Rates Relief (SBRR) and Rural Rates Relief
- The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme to support long-term viable businesses who may need to respond to cash-flow pressures by seeking additional finance
- The HMRC Time To Pay Scheme
I wish everyone well during these difficult times and please can I make this call to look after your mental good health as well as your financial one in these troubling times.