Sadly, we are currently in the eye of the storm as our brave essential workers battle with the impact of the pandemic. These are incredibly challenging times for everyone. We are all exhausted from the unprecedented nature of the past nine months and the personal impact it has had on each and every one of us.
However, there is a glimmer of light to hold onto with the roll out of the vaccine and the creation of a growing number of vaccination sites across our borough. The Government has set an ambitious target of 13.9 million doses administered by February 2021, which I sincerely hope it meets. With 1.3 million doses already administered, we still have some way to go but as larger vaccination sites go live, the numbers will, I hope, rise rapidly.
In the meantime, we are presented with a number of challenges to overcome which focus on not just the ‘here and now’ but the long term future of our high streets, hospitality and leisure sectors and, how together, we can restart an economy in free fall.
For many of you, it is about the present. I cannot for one moment understand the emotional rollercoaster many of you are on and the stresses that it brings. However, what I can assure you is that we are doing all we can to alleviate some of the struggles you are facing, actively lobbying and representing your business.
In November 2020, we launched Bounce Back Better, a new campaign led by Croydon BID and supported by over 100,000 businesses across the country. Bounce Back Better is a simple manifesto of asks we believe businesses need now and in the future and they are:
• We ask Government to provide a one-off ‘Bounce Back’ grant of up to £15,000 for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses in Tier 2 and Tier 3 across England and Wales with a rateable value of up to and including £150,000. This would give 137,000 businesses vital funds delivered in a manner Local Authorities are equipped to distribute at a total maximum cost of £2.05bn
• We ask Government to remove the burden of National Insurance from employers whose staff are on furlough, saving the average business £2,000 per month until the end of March 2021.
• We ask Government to extend the 100% business rates holiday into 2021/2022 for businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors. Every pound saved is a pound to help businesses stay trading and retain staff.
• We ask government to extend the VAT reduction to 5% for Hospitality from 1 April 2021, up to and including 31st March 2022.
A third lockdown will cause severe pressure, and irrevocable damage, on businesses; many of whom have been under the toughest tier restrictions for several months. We are relieved that the Government has listened to our calls for greater financial support but, as suggested by leading commentators, it is merely a sticky plaster.
We will be asking the Chancellor to provide assurances that the funding requirements will be reviewed in the event the national lockdown in England is extended beyond mid-February.
There is undeniable support offered to employees and employers through the furlough scheme, with 9.9 million on furlough as of 13 December 2020. However, the Chancellor needs to remove the employer National Insurance Contributions for all those on furlough to reduce the outgoing costs for businesses currently crippled by the numerous restrictions and lockdowns.
We are constantly working with the local authority and other strategic partners to make sure you have the support you need in the present. We are aware from many of you the challenges you have experienced with receiving grant payments and have been working with Croydon Council to make sure the money you need reaches you. Croydon Council’s economic development team have been working round the clock and I am pleased to say that the application process has been streamlined to make it easier for all involved. I have to say that the Government’s approach to numerous grants at different rates, under different tiers has made for a complex system for all of us to negotiate.
Croydon BID represents your business interests across a range of forums designed to make sure your voice is heard. From our discussions with Croydon Council to the Strategic Co-ordination Group Business Taskforce, a proportion of our attention is turning to the future and the future roadmap to recovery for you and your business.
The heart of our communities will survive. Our high street will come through this. What is important is that initially, we are lobbying both locally and across London for a ‘Roadmap to Recovery’ to ensure Croydon’s business community can plan effectively and ultimately compete as a destination of choice.
The roadmap to recover will need a combination of financial support long term that encourages future resilience of businesses, implementation and improvement of digital services and support to allow businesses to either adapt or grow, encouraging future employment.
To allow us to consider future growth locally and nationally, the Bounce Back Better campaign will be calling for 100% Business Rates holiday for 2021-2022 to act as a catalyst for business growth from Spring through to Summer. It is imperative that businesses have this, relieving financial pressure and strain and allowing you and your business to plan effectively.
Having been closed for some time, the hospitality sector needs further support. The current VAT reduction from 20% to 5% comes to an end on 31st March 2021. We are calling on this to be extended by a further year. The Government would be making a grave mistake in supporting the business community by removing the VAT reduction immediately, placing greater challenges on an industry still very much reeling from the effects of the initial lockdown.
As a Business Improvement District (BID), we will be looking at meanwhile uses to see whether we can influence the future offer positively alongside possible capital investments to support Croydon as a destination for people to enjoy safely.
In the meantime, please follow the guidance laid out by the Government as part of the current lockdown introduced on 4th January 2021 and stay safe.
We will get through this. We will do it together and we will be stronger for it.
Chief Executive, Croydon BID