Louise Bennett, the chief executive of the Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce, believes the extension of the furlough scheme will bring some relief but says the closure of hospitality, leisure and non-essential retail will come as another blow to the regional economy.
Bennett also called for clarity on which businesses can continue to operate after Thursday after the Prime Minister told those in construction and manufacturing to carry on working.
She said: “Since the very beginning of the crisis, we have said that health must come first and that remains the case.
“But I have seen how hard so many of our businesses have worked to make themselves Covid-secure and this latest announcement that will see them close for four weeks will hit them hard.
“The extension of furlough is to be welcomed but, just as before, it will need to be part of a wider package of measures and it’s important to remember that many firms will be worse off than they were ahead of the initial lockdown – so support will need to go further and it will be needed urgently.
“Companies we speak to day in, day out, want to play their part in getting on top of the virus but they also want to see that there is a plan that helps them to move forward. Financial support is welcome but nothing will beat them being able to actually do business.
“Businesses want to know that there is a long-term plan for the future and that, for those hardest hit, it’s not just about surviving today but how they will be able to invest and grow in the future. The Government needs to be clear to companies that are struggling that there is a plan for better times ahead.
“As well as being clear on a new package of help for businesses, we’d urge Government to clarify which companies can continue to operate. The PM mentioned construction and manufacturing – so we’d urge our local firms in these sectors to carry on as they have been in a Covid secure way.
“But there will be some company bosses in certain sectors who are not 100 per cent sure if they are able to continue come Thursday, so it’s vital that any grey areas are eliminated as soon as possible.”
British Chambers of Commerce Director General Adam Marshall said: “There’s no getting around the fact that these new restrictions will be a devastating blow to business communities who have done everything in their power to adapt and operate safely.
“Business and market confidence have been hit hard by the unclear, stop-start approach taken by governments across the UK over the past eight months, with little end in sight. Many firms are in a much weaker position now than at the start of the pandemic, making it far more challenging to survive extended closures or demand restrictions.
“The temporary extension of the furlough scheme will bring short-term relief to many firms, and responds to Chambers’ call for business support to be commensurate with the scale of the restrictions imposed. While there is no substitute for a functioning economy, the full financial support package for businesses facing hardship, whether through loss of demand or closure, must immediately be clarified and communicated. Sustained help must be available to employers, to the self-employed and to the many businesses and individuals that have not been able to access any of the government’s schemes to date.
“The Government must not squander the time afforded to them through another lockdown to enable mass testing and fix Test and Trace systems - which hold the key to a lasting exit strategy for both public health and the economy.
“We will be examining the detail of new restrictions and support carefully over the coming days, together with Chamber business leaders across the country. Business communities will judge them on whether they are clear and evidence-based - and on whether businesses are able to see when these restrictions may come to an end.”