Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a four-week delay in lifting the remaining coronavirus restrictions in England beyond June 21.
Stuart Elford, Chair of British Chambers of Commerce South West (BCCSW) – the regional affiliation of accredited county chambers in the South West – says this latest lockdown extension could have a ‘catastrophic’ effect on business.
He has urged the Government to continue to support businesses and to avoid a ‘stop-start’ approach to reopening the economy fully.
The British Chambers of Commerce is now calling for extended packages of financial support which are commensurate with any delays.
Schemes such as furlough have offered a lifeline for businesses in badly affected sectors such as those in the leisure, hospitality and tourism industry.
Talking to BBC News, Stuart said: “This extension to the lifting of lockdown is very disappointing news and will be absolutely catastrophic for some businesses.
“However, businesses would prefer that there was a delay, rather than another stop-start approach which is very, very disruptive – ramping up supply chains, operations and staffing is very difficult.
“As the Prime Minister has said, we have got to make sure that the next step is irreversible.
“Any delays must be matched with extended financial support for businesses. Support like this is critical if businesses are to survive during this hugely difficult time and reach the full lifting of restrictions.
“There are businesses – those who have embraced digital technologies early and are trading online – which are doing very well and we expect a bounce-back in the economy very quickly.
“But of course, the South West relies heavily on leisure, hospitality and tourism, together with the food and drink industries, and the impact of coronavirus and Brexit has made it particularly difficult for these businesses.
“Sadly, there are businesses that will fail because they’ve really struggled and their limited cash reserves have run out.
“That is why there must be support, to allow these businesses to survive. If we can just get over the line and get to a full easing of restrictions, that will result in businesses surviving, a rise in employment and be much better for the whole economy.
“I think we’re all aware that life isn’t going to return to what it was before, but let’s look forward and see what we can do to make things work out.
“It’s incumbent on all of us to be sensible with making sure we don’t lapse back into any sort of restrictions, but what we can’t have is a start-stop economy which will simply decimate the business community.
“We’ve always said to the Government that they need to make early decisions and communicate that as soon as possible, together with what their intentions are to support businesses.”