What are the main concerns for Cheltenham businesses as they tackle the impact of the coronavirus? What funding and support is there to help them and what further help do they need?
It was questions like these that inspired Cheltenham BID to hold its first video conference call for our businesses. It proved to be a great success. Here’s a summary of what was covered.
OPERATIONS AND FINANCE
- £10,000 grant for businesses – This grant is for businesses with Small Business Rate Relief that were actively trading and occupying properties with rateable values of £15,000 or less and who fit the government criteria for this grant.
Feedback – More than 90 businesses were contacted by the BID to let them know that they were eligible. Cheltenham Borough Council (CBC) started payments on Friday 27 March, way in advance of most other councils.
- £25,000 grant for businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sector – This grant is for eligible businesses in those sectors occupying properties with rateable values between £15,000 and £51,000 on 11 March 2020.
Feedback – CBC have emailed more than 400 businesses and where they cannot make contact they will come to the BID and ask for help with out-of-hours contact details. There was some initial confusion around how much businesses would receive as the information from the Government stated ‘up to’ £25,000. We can now confirm it is £25,000 or nothing.
A point was raised around the fact that if you were a business with a rateable value of more than £15,000 and did not fall in the retail, hospitality or leisure sector then you could be left with no support at all. There may be some grey areas now, but the BID is hoping that the grants will be expanded to all businesses in the future.
Other businesses that meet the eligibility criteria need to complete and return this form.
If you’re not sure whether you are eligible email email@example.com or call the business rates helpline on 01242 264255.
- Landlords and rents – Commercial tenants who cannot pay their rent because of coronavirus will be protected from eviction. More information
Feedback – Concerns were raised around a lack of flexibility from some landlords around rents that are due. Some landlords are demanding payment now without offering any sort of delay or alternative.
Kevan Blackadder, the BID’s Director, has contacted Cheltenham MP Alex Chalk and has asked him to raise this as an issue nationally. It was accepted that most landlord and tenant agreements were private, but it is hoped that landlords will accept they need to act responsibly.
Kevan has also been in touch with private Cheltenham landlord Cheltine to ask for their thoughts. Cheltine have said they are not expecting all payments up front and understand it is a difficult time for businesses.
Our businesses would like to urge landlords to be realistic and waive payments rather than just delay. Some of our businesses stated that they knew of some local landlords who have already offered rent holidays to tenants.
In addition to the above Kevan has asked CBC leader Steve Jordan to send an open letter to all commercial landlords across the borough calling on them to take their share of the burden. The Cheltenham Chamber of Commerce have agreed to support along with the Gloucestershire Federation of Small Businesses. If you wish to receive to a copy of the final letter to share with your landlord please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Furloughing staff – Employers can claim 80% of furloughed employees’ (employees on a leave of absence) usual monthly wage costs, up to £2,500 a month, plus the associated Employer National Insurance contributions and minimum automatic enrolment employer pension contributions on that wage. Employers can use this scheme at any time. More information
The scheme is open to all UK employers that had created and started a PAYE payroll scheme by 28 February 2020.
Feedback – A lot of our businesses have already gone through the process of furloughing their staff and are waiting for the HMRC portal to open to start their individual company claim. The online portal is guaranteed to open before the end of April 2020 where employers will be able seek further individual staff criteria. Businesses may be audited further down the line.
Directors of limited companies can furlough themselves and claim 80% from the Government if they are on the payroll and are not generating income for the company during this time.
- Loans – As well as government backed business loans, banks and building societies have been told to support their business clients. Some banks are operating behind closed doors but are contactable by telephone, email and through online portals. Loans are repayable. See more information.
Feedback – Many banks and building societies are not making loans easily available to businesses. It is hoped that pressure will be put on them by the Government to ensure the situation improves. The BID has a list of helpful contacts, please email email@example.com for more detail.
- HMRC – Support for businesses paying tax. Any business concerned about paying outstanding tax liabilities to HMRC may be able to take advantage of the ‘Time To Pay’ service.
It has also been said that HMRC will waive late payment penalties and interest where a business experiences administrative difficulty contacting HMRC or paying taxes due to COVID-19. Any business concerned about being able to pay tax can call HMRC’s dedicated helpline on 0800 0159 559
Feedback – Businesses stated that HRMC were helpful and had already authorised to defer payment on everything they owed for a significant period. These payments include PAYE, VAT and Cooperation TAX.
Welfare and wellbeing of individuals and employees
Information can be found on the Government Business Support website here and at ACAS, Coronavirus: advice for employers and employees.
Financial, emotional and physical support for individuals is available through several charities. The Retail Trust has resources to help you support your employees.
Feedback –Some employers still have some staff working. It is important to think about their wellbeing and welfare whether they are working from home or still working in the public. Some employees are not used to working on their own and dealing with technology by themselves.
The coronavirus outbreak means that life has changed for all of us and this may cause employees/employers to feel anxious, stressed, worried, sad, bored, lonely or frustrated. It is important for employers to make daily contact to check on their staff, particularly those working from home. The ‘Stay at Home’ message needs to be stressed consistently along with the ‘one form of daily exercise’.
Police Update – Kevan Blackadder provided an update from Cheltenham Police. He said that while there had been relatively little anti-social behaviour so far, the police were aware there could be possible ASB within the town and are planning for the Easter weekend ahead. The Police’s strategy moving forward is Explain, Engage, Encourage and Enforce and if necessary, they will act.
Feedback –There was a concern raised around the amount of locked down potentially vulnerable businesses. The police have confirmed to the BID that while they cannot act as full-time security patrols, they are aware that they need to keep an eye on business premises as well as residential.
MARKETING AND SOCIAL
A lot of businesses have closed all together or are offering an online retail or food and drink takeaway/delivery service. See how you can engage online.
Feedback – The advice given was to concentrate on retaining your existing online customers. An online customer doesn’t necessarily just mean people who have bought from you but anyone who has indicated that they are interested in you and your brand. This could be an engagement or a ‘like’ or ‘follow’ of a social media page/account. Businesses need to be reminding their customers why they ‘liked’ them in the first place and letting them know that they are ‘still here’. Businesses can create engaging story telling content by creating ‘behind the scenes’ content, ‘style/recipe guides’, positivity and ‘throwback’ posts.
Businesses fed back with examples of their soft selling, engaging posts with ‘humour’ and ‘fun’ was a theme highlighted; whilst encouraging others to take part in sharing the engagement. Direct communication with customers was mentioned either through virtual or telephone calls, emails or a chunky posted letter for that personalised touch.
Q & A
Visit Cheltenham was mentioned as vital channel for information on businesses offering takeaways and/or deliveries along with other fantastic consumer information around free online activities for adults, families and children.
Businesses asked about information to share with employees and customers around local volunteering. Councils across the county have come together with the police and health partners to create the hub to connect local people who need help, with individuals, groups and businesses who can provide the support they need.
The hub can be accessed at here.
It includes four areas:
1.‘I can offer help’ – is for those who are able to support neighbours with tasks such as picking up prescriptions, shopping, dog walking and more
2.‘I need help’ – can be used by individuals to ask for support
3.‘My neighbour needs help’ – may be used by people to request help on behalf of a neighbour, relative or friend who cannot access the internet themselves
4.‘My business can help’ – will allow local businesses who may have skills and resources others could benefit from, to offer their help
The information collected will be shared with the relevant local district or borough council who will connect people who can help each other, or if appropriate refer individuals to an existing service.
Residents are encouraged to share details of the community help hub on social media using the hashtag #GlosCommunity.
The businesses thanked the BID for what they said was a very valuable call and asked for similar calls to be arranged soon.