There’s been an impassioned plea for action – now – to defend Island businesses in the coronavirus crisis

Island accountant John Moffat, who chairs the Outer Hebrides Chamber of Commerce yesterday (Thursday March 20th)  told Alasdair Allan MSP and Angus Brendan MacNeil MP:

“The tourism and leisure businesses on the Islands have endured a long hard winter and most rely massively on the upturn in demand that occurs from April onwards. 

“This demand has now been cut off.  This leaves many of our businesses with much depleted cash flow, barely able to pay wages this week, never mind next week, and in such a position that they cannot wait for a period of time until the financial grants and loans mechanisms are put in place.

“The support so far is for businesses eligible for the small business bonus/rates relief and for those in retail, leisure and tourism with rateable values less than a specified value.

“We need to be concerned about all of the other businesses, my own included, – who have seen a fall-off in demand, or delayed payment, who may need to consider making staff redundant, or go to short-term working?

“Politicians have said that they want businesses to continue employing and paying their staff, to do so there needs to be another layer of support.

“I believe that the Governments should consider supporting payroll costs.  I suggest that at the very least there should be a consideration of paying a grant to each employer of the national minimum wage for every hour of every employees regular working week or month. 

“That way all employers can confidently keep their staff employed and avoid the trauma of layoffs, redundancies and the need to recruit when things get back to normality.  It also saves the employees from the burden and trauma of redundancy or lay off at this time.

“This is not a problem of our making and I don’t think that our citizens and businesses should suffer as a result.  The physical suffering is bad enough, we can prevent the financial suffering.

“We, like many, are prudent businesses and have a reserve, but it is not a bottomless pit.  We can probably afford to pay one more month of wages without any income coming in, but then we would be struggling.  Many more would be unable.

“The action to date is welcome, but if we are to truly look after our businesses and our working citizens then more needs to be done and quickly.”

David Richardson, Development Manager, Highlands and Islands, Federation of Small Businesses, said: “We’ve been inundated with calls, emails and texts from many, many businesses right across the Highlands & Islands.

“All highlighted real concerns and fears about the future of a wide range of businesses, not least having the cash to pay staff and the many other bills that come their way at this time of year.

Our approach as a UK-wide organisation is simple:

  • First, we are talking to the UK and Scottish Governments about the additional measures that might be required to support the self-employed and SMEs through this difficult time.
  • Second, we are doing our best to offer relevant and useful support and guidance to members and non-members alike. 

We are all in this together, and only by working together can we hope to avert the worst of the damage being done to our economy and communities.  

With that in mind, we have created a dedicated business support hub, containing a wide range of useful, constantly updated information. This is open to all businesses, non-members included. 

“Today (Friday) at 11am, we will be live streaming advice, guidance and answers to businesses’ questions in a special WEBINAR, delivered by a panel of experts: representatives from our Insurance team; Funding Platform; Legal team and, very importantly, the UK’s Interim Small Business Commissioner. The webinar is open to all businesses, non-members included, and everyone must register in advance.

They have space for 10,000 attendees at the Webinar, and it was filling fast.

Earlier MSP Alasdair Allan said he had received numerous queries from concerned businesses as visitors cancel planned trips and demand for a range of services plummets.

The Scottish Government has announced a range of actions to support businesses including a package of measures worth £2.2 billion from 1 April:

  • a full year’s 100% non-domestic rates relief for retail, hospitality and tourism
  • £10,000 grants for small businesses in receipt of the Small Business Bonus Scheme or Rural Relief
  • £25,000 grants for hospitality, leisure and retail properties with a rateable value between £18,000 and £51,000
  • 1.6% relief for all properties, effectively freezing the poundage rate next year
  • First Minister to convene an emergency meeting of the Financial Services Advisory Board
  • urging local authorities to relax planning rules to allow pubs and restaurants to operate temporarily as takeaways
  • extending the go live date for the deposit return scheme to July 2022
  • halting the introduction of the Visitor Levy Bill

Alasdair Allan said: “Here in the Western Isles, the tourism and hospitality sectors play a major role in our economy, and there is widespread anxiety about the economic consequences of the Covid-19 outbreak. I spoke to one small business in the islands earlier this week that had just taken 70 cancellations in the space of one hour.

“There is a dedicated helpline that has been set-up to support businesses in Scotland which is on 0300 303 0660. I am aware that people have had difficulty getting through as the service has been inundated and is receiving thousands of calls a day. I welcome the commitment from the Scottish Government to scale up the resources available to help address the high volume of enquiries.” 

And Comhairle nan Eilean Siar said yesterday that working towards being able to implement these announced measures as quickly as possible.

Non-domestic rates bills would normally be issued in the middle of March with the first payment due either at the end of May for those paying in 10 instalments or by September for those paying the year in one lump sum.

Because of the timing of the changes there will be a delay issuing the bills so that the Comhairle can ensure that the bills are correct and have the correct reliefs in line with recent announcements.

Updated details will be published on the Covid-19 information page on the following website: https://findbusinesssupport.gov.scot/coronavirus-advice/

You can also find further information and watch a short webinar on the practical steps you can take just now to help you plan for any disruption here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eLd1bG8SOC4

Updates will also be provided on the Outer Hebrides Business Gateway Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/BusinessGatewayOuterHebrides/ and the Business Gateway website https://www.bgateway.com/

Business Gateway and HIE have postponed all face-to-face contact for this interim period but they are working and available via email and telephone as normal.