We’re now a full two months into lockdown. Bank Holidays have come and gone with barely any notice as days began to blur into each other. It was something of a relief to be able to get back to Parliament last week to support the Prime Minister at PMQs, and to see some colleagues in real life rather than on one of the myriad of online meeting platforms with which so many of us have had to wrestle.
However, it was back to Zoom on Thursday when I took part in a question and answer session for the Brentwood Chamber of Commerce. I usually see the members first thing at their breakfast meeting, so it was a pleasant change to have the Q&A at 4pm.
Unsurprisingly, there were several questions about the support available for small businesses and those who are self-employed or who have furloughed employees. Some self-employed workers are concerned the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme has not yet been extended* to match the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme which is supporting employees until August. The guidance on the SEISS has been clear it may be extended if needed, but there is no doubt it is the case that the UK is reaching the limits of what it can afford to do - since the enormous and necessary relief packages have been announced our credit rating has already been downgraded once. However, there has been good news from the Treasury this week that homeowners struggling to pay their mortgage due to Coronavirus will be able to extend their mortgage payment holiday for a further three months, or start making reduced payments. In the words of the supermarket slogan, every little helps.
Brentwood Chamber of Commerce members are already looking to the future. There is no doubt we will see changes to our high streets – hopefully there will be an opportunity for independent businesses to flourish through the ability to adjust quickly to market forces. And sustainable transport links are going to be helped too with a £250million emergency active travel fund given the opportunity for pop-up bike lanes with protected space for cycling, wider pavements, safer junctions, and cycle and bus-only corridors to be created across England within weeks.
It’s not going to be an easy journey back to work and full trading on our High Streets but our local business people know their stuff and I know they will find opportunities even in this bleak situation.
* If you’re eligible and want to claim the first grant you must make your claim on or before 13 July 2020. Since writing this article the SEISS has been extended. You’ll be able to make a claim for a second and final grant in August 2020. Find out more here