The following article is reproduced here by kind permission of Suffolk Chamber of Commerce and a version first appeared in the Bury Free Press earlier this month (May).
A recent survey by Suffolk Chamber of Commerce has found that virtually every business has now been impacted by the spread of Coronavirus/COVID-19 and businesses of all shape and sizes across West Suffolk will be no different.
However, what does bode well is the resilience that many businesses are showing. Despite our rurality in West Suffolk, many businesses are finding new ways of working, most noticeably from home, but also via the different working hours of staff who may have to cope with varying demands in terms of home-schooling, social distancing and general day-to-day life.
Zoom, Teams and Blue Jeans have become everyday language across most households and businesses as an effective way of ‘keeping in touch’. As a result, some businesses are actually reporting an increase in productivity. Hopefully, when we begin to ease restrictions, the improving digital connectivity will allow us to continue these flexible working patterns.
Despite the positives, of course many businesses will be struggling and we’re grateful to colleagues at West Suffolk Council who have been able to pay out grants to businesses and ensure the government support scheme provides a vital lifeline to businesses who may be counting the days and weeks rather than months.
Furthermore, the announcement of the ‘Bounce Back’ Loans scheme will be another welcome addition to those businesses needing cash. I know our colleagues at the Chamber of Commerce are busy lobbying for additional support for business including a business rates holiday and ensuring that those who fall through the gaps will be supported.
Safety is obviously paramount but local businesses will soon be looking to reopen and this must be handled carefully to ensure a second wave of the infection does not come about. Nevertheless, our town centres and shops will need footfall to survive, and although local high-streets in West Suffolk have suffered in recent years, now will be the time to support them more than ever.
Let’s hope that any recovery package from government includes support for high streets and maybe a fundamental and long overdue change to business rates which so many business groups have been calling for. High streets are the heart of our local communities and with community spirit higher than ever, I’m hopeful that consumers can pull together to help our struggling shops, restaurants and coffee shops.
These are indeed challenging times, and our resilience is being severely tested. We need to prepare for the ‘new norm’ and that will come with its own challenges, as we adapt to a new way of supporting local businesses.
Whilst the online shopping trolley has been a welcome relief during ‘lockdown’, it isn’t necessarily the panacea for all, and therefore, our high street businesses need to strike the balance between attracting footfall and generating online traffic.
Our area has much to be proud of, from how our communities are working together, to the resilience of our local businesses and to the beautiful countryside that we all probably have a greater appreciation for. To date, the public and private sector partnerships on business support and the adherence to the ‘lockdown’ guidelines,have helped reduce the spread of the infection.
Now is the time to start thinking about the recovery and how we can support businesses when they might need it the most.
For more information about Barker Storey Matthews in Suffolk, contact Simon Burton, firstname.lastname@example.org and for Suffolk Chamber of Commerce see https://www.suffolkchamber.co.uk