30th March 2020
COVID-19 DAILY UPDATE
Firstly, can I wish everyone well after what has been a couple of weeks of intense worry and concern for so many of us in the industry. We are now beginning to get some clarity around some of the questions members have been asking and we continue to lobby for additional support on those issues listed in my update on Friday.
A few developments that will be of interest have occurred over the weekend and today:
- Changes to Insolvency and Company Rules BEIS minister, Alok Sharma, announced that the Government would be introducing legislation to support businesses that would otherwise be operating illegally due to being technically insolvent. There will be a temporary suspension of “wrongful trading” rules which make it a criminal offence for a company to keep trading if they know the business is unable to repay its debts, with new rules allowing companies undergoing restructuring to continue to access supplies and raw materials. This will also remove the threat of Directors having personal liability for their business and will apply retrospectively from 1 March.
He also announced that companies required to hold Annual General Meetings will be able to do so flexibly in a matter compatible with public health guidance such as holding the AGM online, or by phone using only proxy voting.
- Guidance on Mental Health and Wellbeing While everyone is working hard to deal with the business and employment impacts of Coronavirus, one of the overlooked issues of this is the impact on the mental health of business owners and employees. To help with this, the Government has produced guidance on how to protect people from the psychological impacts of this crisis.
- VAT Further guidance on the deferral of VAT is now on the Government Business support website. It makes clear (in answer to a number of questions from members) that there is no deferral of filing requirements. Deferral is for the payment only.
- Furloughed workers undertaking small security or maintenance checks. We and our sister trade bodies continue to push hard on this. We have been told by Treasury that if a furloughed employee volunteers or is willing to do this kind of task and is not compelled or requested to do so by the employer then it won’t be a problem We have asked for this to be put in writing.
- Insurance Members continue to be frustrated by the response to business interruption claims. As I said last week this is one where individual policies are so varied that the best approach is to work through your broker. The Government has been clear that Covid-19 is a notifiable disease but this is only relevant if you have unspecified notifiable diseases included in your cover. Likewise Government ordered closures may be sufficient to trigger business interruption clauses but it will be down to the specific policies. The Government’s statement is here
- Local Authority Fees Nearly all local authorities that have replied to members have said they are awaiting advice on whether they can rebate or extend Premises Licence fees but have indicated at the moment they are likely to remain as is. We are continuing to lobby on this one as it is to my mind not right that fees should be paid when your premises are shut. The LA cannot undertake its usual enforcement or inspection duties and therefore is not incurring any cost as a result.
- Local Authority Grants We are hearing that it is unlikely these will be available until well into April.
For members in WALES, the Welsh Government has launched the Economic Resilience Fund aimed to plug the gaps in the support schemes already announced by the UK Government. It will support firms of all sizes, including social enterprises, with a focus on those which have not already benefited from the coronavirus grants already announced by the Welsh Government. The £500m fund is made up of two main elements:
- A new £100m Development Bank of Wales fund will be available for companies experiencing cash flow problems as a result of the pandemic and will provide loans of between £5,000 and £250,000 at favourable interest rates.
- Businesses will also be able to benefit from a £400m emergency pot providing:
- Grants of £10,000 for micro-businesses employing up to nine people. This includes sole traders employing staff. Qualifying businesses will be able to apply by mid-April
- Grants of up to £100,000 for small and medium sized firmswith between 10 and 249 employees. Qualifying businesses will be able to apply from next week
- Support for larger Welsh companies, which are of critical social or economic importance to Wales. This element will be open to qualifying businesses within the next two weeks.
Please do keep the feedback and questions coming, and please don’t forget to keep your elected representatives informed of how this crisis is affecting your business.