With the news of a vaccine, 2021 is increasingly looking like a year where we can begin to return to some sense of normality. However, one area of society at severe risk of not returning are the small businesses that have been hit hard by the pandemic.
These include the independent shops, pubs, restaurants, hotels, hairdressers, suppliers and many others that make up our high streets and are the beating heart of communities across the country. They’ve adapted brilliantly in tough circumstances, but many are facing a serious cash crisis after eight months of difficult trading conditions.
At the beginning of December, we marked Small Business Saturday and I was very pleased to visit a number of amazing independent businesses in Sydenham and Penge. I am really proud of the work they have done to become covid secure and also help contribute to the community response such as by donating to the free school meals campaign.
But according to the latest ONS Business Impact of Covid Survey an estimated 390,000 small businesses across the country are worried they won’t survive the next three months and that over a million only have cash reserves to last them for under 1 month to 3 months.
Further, Government economic support, when it has been available, has far too often played catch-up to the public health restrictions, leaving many businesses in the lurch. Indeed, since March, 20,000 shops have closed with 200,000 people losing their jobs in retail and hospitality alone.
Most businesses have also received far less support during the last national lockdown than they did during the first with many seeing up to 70% less. These shrinking grants simply won’t cover the running costs of the hardest-hit firms.
Meanwhile businesses shut in all but name like suppliers to the worst-affected sectors, and those in the wedding and events industries, have been left out in the cold or faced entirely inadequate support.
Unfortunately, instead of offering the help that is needed, the Government is refusing to properly support small businesses. Unless Ministers change course we’ll see many more hardworking independents go bust and high streets crumbling before winter is through.
Labour have been calling on the Government to set out a proper plan to support these businesses through the crisis with a support package that reflects the level of business need and severity of restrictions in different areas.
This is needed if we are to save our high streets and the jobs people rely on to support their families. Further, if we want 2021 to really be a recovery year, we need to create the best environment for an economic recovery. Vibrant high streets populated with independent businesses like in Sydenham and Penge is the answer, but they need the support to weather the necessary public health restrictions now.