Last week Boris Johnson announced further relaxing of the UK’s lockdown measures. The latest changes will come into effect on 4 July, allowing many more industries to open up and do business as the country enters the next stage in our efforts to fight COVID-19.
There’s been much debate surrounding when and how we should safely reopen. The government faced mounting pressure to restart these integral parts of the UK’s economy that haven’t been able to do business during lockdown. While non-essential shops were allowed to reopen their doors on 15 June, this easing of restrictions should benefit those in hospitality, manufacturing and construction most given the increased access to demand.
For many, this has come as a huge relief. The levels of debt the government has taken on have surpassed the size of our economy for the first time in over half a century. Collectively, we need these businesses to be able to operate, but it’s tough to know how best to negotiate the current climate. While the advice to reopen is clear, the “how” is less so. The most important thing is that we operate with the safety of our teams and customers as a priority.
Think about what measures your business needs to take before you get back to work and how you can manage the associated costs. Below, we go through potential barriers the latest easing may bring up, and ways of overcoming them.
WHAT’S CHANGING ON 4 JULY?
Social distancing is sticking around – but at a less strictly enforced distance. Until now we’ve been required to maintain 2m between others where possible; from 4 July we’re being asked to keep a distance of “1m plus” if this isn’t feasible. This means staying at least a metre apart and taking all necessary precaution to minimise the risk of transmission. Those in the hospitality industry will have breathed a massive sigh of relief as this revision means making ends meet is possible.
Cafés, pubs, restaurants and shops that can be accessed from the outside and are self-contained will be allowed to open on 4 July. Museums, galleries, hairdressers and cinemas are also reopening. So the hospitality industry can make a recognised return and domestic tourism can open up, but it’s not as simple as reopening your doors after nearly four months.
If you work in or with these industries, it’s important to get reopening right. And with lockdown easing for the general public and life feeling somewhat more stable, there could be a surge in demand for construction and manufacturing too. Retail sales rose by 12% once non-essential stores started reopening in May and the housing market has seen an increase of 2.4% on final sale prices. Pent up demand seems stronger than anticipated.
ASSES RISK AND PLAN YOUR FINANCES CAREFULLY AHEAD OF 4 JULY
Many voices have called for the government to reopen industries and kickstart the economy, but it’s crucial that we do so in a safe and controlled manner. While businesses across various industries will legally be allowed to open and operate publicly for the first time since lockdown began in March, we’ve got to adhere to the strictest health guidelines and practices. The steps you take to ensure this are important if we’re to avoid or lessen the effects of a potential second wave.
The government website has detailed guidelines specific to each industry that exhaustively lays out the measures you should consider to operate as safely and fairly as possible when you do reopen.
Generally the new rules outline that the number of people in enclosed spaces needs to be reduced to as few as possible, ventilation and airflow have to be improved, protection screens and face coverings should be introduced, and hygiene measures ramped up. Any non-essential spaces must be closed off and shift patterns should be staggered to allow for fewer people to come into contact. As long as you implement these measures where possible, your team and customers will be less at risk.
Any precautions you decide to take will also need to be functional and practical for your business. You’ll need to make clear risk assessments for your workplace and ensure that there are clear directions to follow if anyone on the team falls sick. Communication needs to be consistently strong and various scenarios planned out.
For your staff and/or customers to feel as safe as possible, you’ll need to invest in adequate PPE, protective barriers and clear signage. It’s tough to know how long the effects of coronavirus will be felt on our habits and behaviour, but with the threat of a second wave very real, it makes sense to invest adequately in your equipment.
Social distancing may go on for months to come, so if you haven’t yet considered government-backed funding (such as the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme) or grants, now is a great time. There’s no interest or fees to pay in the first year and you’ll be able to offset the costs of COVID-proofing your workplace.
WITHDRAWING FROM GOVERNMENT SUPPORT AFTER 4 JULY
Getting back to work also spells the end of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme for many. Wages need to be paid: this could be weekly, bi-weekly or monthly, and will require adequate cash flow. Think carefully about who you really need in, how often and for how long. Take this time to plan your finances accordingly, especially if you’ve already communicated a reopening date.
The industries that furloughed the most staff were retail and wholesale, accommodation and food, manufacturing, and construction. The latest easing of restrictions will have a significant impact on these industries as more people get back to work and businesses have to start paying salaries – or making layoffs.
The first couple of months may be harder to manage financially, so you need to work out what extra cash you might need to act as a buffer until things get back to normal. We’ve seen that 90% of businesses are still waiting on invoice payments from March, and until your suppliers or customers are back on their feet again, it may take a while for your invoices to be paid.
On top of that, you may need to restock, deal with excess inventory taking up space and paying your own suppliers. Getting back on your feet and back to business will probably require some cash flow. CBILS loans or revolving credit facilities can help you cover these early costs so that you can focus on the bigger picture.
THINK BEYOND 4 JULY AND FUTUREPROOF YOUR BUSINESS
We’ve seen a variety of significant trends since the UK went into lockdown. A huge portion of the workforce adapted to remote working and ecommerce saw a huge boom. These may have been accelerated by the virus but COVID-19 certainly didn’t initiate them. There are many questions around which of these will build or influence our post-pandemic world.
We’ve already discussed the future of the office and our relationship with working from home, but it’s also worth considering your customers’ behaviours and how you can best adapt to stay relevant. Adequate cash reserves may get you through the upcoming uncertainty but they can’t guarantee a future for your business. Follow the situation carefully and work out how to best position yourself in the future.