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Businesses need clarity over lockdown roadmap

Shropshire Chamber of Commerce is urging the Government to provide businesses with greater clarity on its roadmap out of lockdown – including the rules for cross-border trade with Wales. 

It is supporting calls from the British Chambers of Commerce for urgent updates on a number of vital issues, with an easing of lockdown rules now just days away. 

Richard Sheehan, Shropshire Chamber’s chief executive, said: “We feel that far too little has been revealed about how the Government is assessing its four tests on the roadmap for businesses to accurately judge whether it will all happen as planned. 

“Shropshire businesses are also desperate for more detail on the practicalities of reopening and the Government’s various reviews so they can make concrete plans on how they will operate – for example, what social distancing rules will be in place at each stage of the roadmap and beyond. 

“And after the headlines of the past few days, companies are also looking to the Government to clarify potential legal issues surrounding vaccinations.” 

Latest BCC research reveals the degree of financial distress which has been caused to the business community by more than a year of Covid-19 restrictions.

More than half of the companies which responded said they were looking to access finance over the next 12 months, mainly to support their cashflow. 

A quarter described their current level of debt as either ’unmanageable’ or ‘high and manageable’ – rising to around one in three consumer-facing firms like hospitality and retail. 

The BCC says many companies appear reluctant to invest, buy in new stock or make plans for how they will operate with so much uncertainty. 

Mr Sheehan said: “Our view is that the UK Government must also find a way to work more closely with the devolved administrations – in Shropshire’s case, this is particularly important between England and Wales. Many of our businesses operate across these borders, in both directions, which makes planning their restart even more complex.

“If a business has built up huge levels of debt throughout a year of continued restrictions, seen their cashflow reduced to a trickle in some sectors, or been forced to absorb large write-offs due to sudden lockdowns, it’s no surprise that they are crying out for some degree of certainty.” 

Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith, president of the BCC, said: “The route back to a full reopening of the economy is still a long way off, with continued uncertainty about whether, and when, the roadmap steps will be met.  

“The timescales for some firms to get ready are already short. Others will be holding out for decisions to be made around issues like international travel and tourism to finally give them hope for the future.”

Pictured: Richard Sheehan

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