One in ten SMEs won’t be ready for re-opening, survey reveals

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One in 10 small firms do not believe they are ready to meet new social distancing rules to safely get their businesses back up and running, a report has revealed.

The latest coronavirus business impact tracker by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) found that 10% of companies believe they are not yet able to implement guidance and restart operations due to the challenges of social distancing in the workplace.

But the BCC study showed signs that firms are beginning to get ready for life post-lockdown, with 37% of the 609 companies polled saying they can implement the new guidelines to be able to restart their operations, while 45% believe they could partially reopen.

Yet the report stressed many firms are still not likely to be able to restart at full capacity due to a reduction in demand amid the strict social distancing rules that will hamper the economy for some time to come.

The findings come after calls for “immediate action” from the Government to help small firms access the protection kit needed to make their workplaces secure and able to restart operations.

Darren Jones, chairman of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, said on Tuesday he had written to the Business Secretary raising concerns that small companies were struggling to get the right equipment and would be held back from reopening.

Dr Adam Marshall, director general of the BCC, said: “While businesses have welcomed the publication of official guidance on how they can reopen premises and restart operations, some sectors still require greater clarity from the Government on when and how they will be allowed to do so.

“This is particularly the case for hospitality and leisure companies, which will not reopen before July at the earliest. Companies at all levels of readiness to restart, of all sizes, and in every part of the UK will need sustained Government support as they navigate the ‘new normal’ with reduced demand and restrictions still in place,” he added.

The BCC’s study also showed around 70% of firms had furloughed a proportion of their workforce, with 85% of those who have submitted a claim now having been paid. This compares with 73% receiving payment the previous week and 59% the week before.

Firms have also been tapping into the Government’s bounce back loan scheme for smaller firms, with 54% of firms succeeding in getting loans.

More than a third – 38% – are still waiting for a decision, but this is down from 58% the previous week.

The BCC surveyed small firms between May 13 and 15, of which 73% are in the services sector and 27% in the manufacturing sector.

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