Sara’s blog: Managing cashflow

CEO of Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce, Sara Williams, is writing regularly about the impact of the coronavirus on businesses and what support is available.

At Staffordshire Chambers, we’re very aware of the many issues facing businesses at the moment and are regularly hearing from our members about these concerns. One of the big ones is managing cashflow, which is particularly tricky when businesses are closing down or changing so rapidly.

One of my main pieces of advice would be to talk to the Small Business Commissioner with examples of both good and bad practice you’ve experienced. Some of the bigger companies are changing their terms of payment so they are paying smaller companies sooner, which is great news. But on the other hand, some companies are being quite aggressive, such as blanket decisions on not paying their suppliers for a longer period.

We’ve also found that more businesses are demanding payment in advance of an order being dispatched, or reserving the right to change the prices, as duty shipping rates may change in transit. Our Department for International Trade team at the Chambers can give advice on this.

I’d suggest that if businesses are trading with another Chambers member, talk with each other and try to reach a compromise or an interim payment structure to help tide everybody over in difficult trading conditions. It’s important for the business community to support each other as much as possible to get through this together.

Also, if your business is struggling with the cost of premises then look to your landlord. Every landlord would rather have a business still resident in a few months’ time than deal with an empty property now.

I’d recommend too that businesses speak with their bank at their earliest convenience and look to prepare cashflow projections to help them through.

To support you with all this, we have a webinar on managing cashflow coming up on Tuesday 7th April – you can sign up for it here.

And through everything, Staffordshire Chambers and Staffordshire Growth Hub are able to talk to you about all of these issues and more – do get in touch and we’ll do all we can to help.

The Coronavirus has necessitated businesses close across Staffordshire leaving many empty buildings: this will likely be the first time your building is going to be empty for an extended period of time. There is a concern that your property could be at risk of being targeted: this could potentially come in the form of an illegal occupation, the theft of stock or criminal damage.

The risk factor to your premises will naturally be dependent on a number of factors: area, local criminality, size, stock, security and this is an aide memoire for assisting you in your decision-making. Staffordshire Police is maintaining a visible presence and is committed to preventing any crime. However, we need your help to ensure that your buildings are as secure as they can be.

As a rule, it is important that you focus on the risks to your premises and regularly review your security. Work in partnership online to reduce the risk by sharing information with your local business community, crime reduction partnership and local police.

The restrictions on your movement will be prohibitive. Only travel where absolutely necessary. Please consider your health, and that of your colleagues, friends, families, and wider population.

The following information will help you protect your property:

1. Review your property portfolio
Conduct a detailed security review of all occupied and unoccupied property and land that you have responsibility for: use a systematic approach of reviewing your premises layer by layer, starting with the boundary and working your way inwards. Look for vulnerabilities in the space between the perimeter, any outbuildings and the main building. Out of sight, out of mind: Lock away any items that could be stolen, used as a climbing aide or targeted for arson.

2. Access and boundary treatments
Invest in a recognised security standard gate and locking mechanism, which is securely fixed to the ground and in alignment with the boundary fence. Ensure your boundary is security rated and high enough to deter someone from climbing over it. We recommend a minimum height of 2.1 metres. Contact your local planning office for details of what height they will allow as a matter of course. There are a wide range of perimeter fences available with additional security features which will be sufficient to deter a physical attack. Some fencing options have a protruding topping that is difficult to climb, whilst allowing natural surveillance through the barrier. Some fencing can also incorporate lighting.

3. Prevent vehicular access on to the site – ‘Design out the space!’
A strong vehicle height restrictor can stop large vehicles entering your site. If the site is closed, you can prohibit vehicular access to the entrance/boundary by securing it with heavy-duty concrete blocks or security rated bollards. If your company has access to heavy-duty vehicle, you can deploy them in any outdoors areas thus ‘designing out the space’ for any prospective occupation. If you don’t have any vehicles or trailers large enough to accomplish this, consider if there are other companies who could use the space for storage of their vehicles or freight and whether this a viable option for legitimately occupying the space. Parking vehicles close to or in front of the entrances to buildings can reduce vulnerability by making them harder to access. Please ensure this is safe to do so, and maintain compliance with fire regulations.

4. Surveillance
In concert with ‘government coronavirus policies’, an SIA licensed security guard employed at the site could provide a permanent presence and quickly alert the authorities to any attempt to enter the property. The SIA website has additional advice on key worker status for the private security industry. The Coronavirus has completely redefined the way we interact (on the risk to the building and personal safety criterion) but there are accredited organisations who could provide a form of residency and permanent occupancy of the building in line with the government recommendations of self-isolation. Note: Always be mindful of the personal safety of your staff and remind them to always call 999 in an emergency.

Having a monitoring station with remote access to the site means police and, if applicable the local authority, can be instantly notified upon an illegal entry, with or without a security presence on the site.

Ensure your CCTV system is an accredited system (correctly installed) and positioned in a way that covers your premises and any vulnerable areas. Please ensure that your staff can operate the system in event of criminality. It should not be in a position where it can be easily attacked or removed.

There are also CCTV systems available that you can link to an App on your phone allowing you to monitor your buildings. Some of these possess a vocal capacity, which is tremendously beneficial because you can ‘communicate’ with any intruder. Some have grown ‘used to the presence of cameras’ and simply presume no one is monitoring them-hearing a voice can change that. Two industry bodies accredit reputable CCTV companies: the National Security Inspectorate (NSI) and the Security Systems and Alarms Inspection Board (SSAIB).

Lighting affects behaviour. Ensure that your property has good lighting levels (BS5489- 2013 for public spaces). We recommend constant low level dusk-till-dawn lighting which can be enhanced by motion detector lighting if needed. Bollard mounted lights are not recommended as they are prone to vandalism and do not sufficiently illuminate the face of any potential intruder.

5. Forensic marking
There are several property marking deterrents which can be used to enhance your security and protect your infrastructure and assets. These contain a unique traceable liquid/DNA code that can provide evidence of a vehicle or individual’s presence at your property. There are also similarly constructed DNA spray type devices available that can be linked into an intruder alarm system. Highly visible warning signs will show your property is protected and warn of the dangers or consequences of entering.

6. Removing the utility supply
These amenities can be attractive to any would-be occupiers. Cutting-off the electric or water supply to the site, if they are not needed, may deter illegal occupiers. Be aware that removing them will impact on any security features you have such as an intruder alarm or CCTV. You will also have to consider fire regulations.

7. Protecting buildings within your site

The vulnerability of a building will depend on a number of factors including its location, local criminality and the type of boundary that exists. If the location is close to the boundary, it will make it easier to target, as there is no additional layer of protection. Protect your doors and windows by using security accredited shutters or grilles. The security rating will be dependent on your building and its contents. Some venues have been targeted historically for illegal occupations and raves on account of having large rooms inside (halls, large dining areas etc.) so if these have entrance doors secure them. Add yet another tier of security. If using a security officer is not an option, consider using a timer switch to create ‘the illusion of occupancy’.

Fit a monitored alarm to the building. This is a good deterrent and a variety of alarms are available. Two industry bodies accredit reputable companies: the National Security Inspectorate (NSI) and the Security Systems and Alarms Inspection Board (SSAIB).

Consider the use of fogging systems that activate upon an alarm being activated-these have a proven record of being dissuasive to criminality-you can’t steal, what you can’t see. Lock valuable products away from any shop floor or visible location. We recommend a safe, to the correct security and insurance accreditations, bolted to the floor and located in a safe and secluded location.
This link to security for construction sites may also be beneficial: https://nbcc.police.uk/guidance/construction-site-security-guide

Covid-19 Emergency Grants Scheme

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic across the UK, the Community Foundation for Staffordshire launched an appeal via JustGiving to raise funds for those affected.

We have now launched our Emergency grants programme that is open to organisations and individuals across Staffordshire who have been affected by the pandemic.

Please note that we cannot support the county without continued support and donations to the JustGiving appeal, so we still need you help in raising awareness of our appeal.

Donate here

The Emergency Grants Programme

Who can apply?
  • Registered charities
  • Constituted Community or Voluntary groups
  • Social Enterprises
  • Any other voluntary, not for profit organisation
  • Parish and Town Councils (project can not fund statutory responsibilities)
  • Organisations that are newly established may be able to be supported, but please call us before applying.
  • Business – as long as their project clearly benefits the local community and not their own costs, profit or gain.
  • Individuals who are residents of Staffordshire or Stoke on Trent

 

Statutory bodies such as a city and county council or health institution cannot apply.

 

What Grants are Available?

There are 3 tiers for organisation grants:

  • up to £1000. We expect most applications to fall into this category
  • £1000 to £5000. We require a more detailed project plan for these grants.
  • £5000 + These grants have a more strategic aim and anyone wishing to apply for more than £5000 should first contact us to discuss their project
  • Individuals may be awarded up to £500, but this must be for actual costs rather than estimates. We will discuss this with you when you call to make your application.

You will find a full, detailed criteria on our website and we strongly advise that you thoroughly read through this before making an application to ensure that it is processed quickly and efficiently.

For more information and apply, please click here

For anyone who finds themselves facing redundancy, taking early retirement, or just re-evaluating their current career path, Transition to Teach is a fully government-funded initiative to raise awareness of teaching as a credible alternative. We hope to be able to ease a little pressure by supporting anyone who may be affected, either by current events, or for other reasons, to help them explore whether teaching could be a possible new career for them, and to look at  their eligibility and the various training options and financial incentives available. For those who opt to take it further, we continue to offer one-to-one specialist advice and guidance throughout the application process, the training year and the first year as a newly qualified teacher.

This is a free service for all employees based in England. It is funded by the Department for Education, who recognise the real value of career changers and the depth of knowledge and experience they can bring into a classroom. It is also important to note that we are not a training provider and are able to offer impartial advice regarding training and the career ahead from specialists who have been involved in education at all levels for many years.

We are keen to make as many people as possible aware of this service and are writing to you in the hope that you will be able to share the information, amongst your clients, partners and colleagues, and in particular, where you know staff may be affected now or in the future.

I have attached our employers’  leaflet which provides some more information for you and your colleagues, and an employee’s leaflet which can be distributed to potentially interested staff, either internally, or amongst stakeholders, family or friends. We recognise that teaching will not suit everyone but it is good for people to be aware that there is information and specialist help available if they want it and hopefully for some, it may provide a new opportunity at this time of uncertainty.

Anyone who would like more information about teaching as a career can express their interest at:

https://www.transitiontoteach.co.uk/

Your city needs you

 

People are being urged to volunteer to support some of the city’s most vulnerable people as part of a community response to coronavirus in Stoke-on-Trent.

#StokeonTrentTogether has been formed by Stoke-on-Trent City Council working alongside local charity and voluntary sector organisation VAST to meet the everyday needs of vulnerable residents who are affected by Covid-19 specifically those who are self-isolating and who do not have the support of friends or family to call upon.

It offers a free call telephone line and website service so that people can access help to get basic food supplies, prescription collections, gas or electricity meter top-ups, regular conversations and even dog walking.

Nearly 400 volunteers have already registered to be part of the initiative but more are being urged to sign up as 500 people have already turned to the helpline for help and support.  Nearly 120 residents rang the service over the weekend following a move to seven days a week extended opening hours. This included requests for help with prescriptions, nappies and baby formula.

 

Council leader Abi Brown said: “129 organisations across the city have already volunteered to support #StokeonTrentTogether. It’s been an amazing response but we need more people to come forward to help. Your city needs you.

 

It can be as simple as agreeing to phone someone who may be lonely in their own home as they self-isolate. Whatever level of support you sign up to give will go a huge way to making a difference to people in need. Over the weekend we worked closely with The Hubb Foundation in Burslem to get emergency supplies out to people in need. We were able to get food out to one resident who hadn’t eaten for two days after becoming ill with the virus and self-isolating. We also got nappies and formula to a young family who are all self-isolating. It is invaluable work and we know that the people of Stoke-on-Trent will get out of it as much as they put in.

 

“While our team of volunteers and staff were able to meet all the demand, we want more volunteers to come forward. We are also encouraging people who would like to support with donations to go to their local food bank although they should do this in a considered way that is mindful of government advice on social distancing and essential journeys only.”

Food parcels have also started to be delivered to people who cannot leave their homes across Stoke-on-Trent. These first food parcels are being co-ordinated by Stoke-on-Trent City Council to support the most vulnerable residents in the city who have been told to self-isolate at home for 12 weeks in response to the coronavirus crisis.

A total of 1.5 million extremely vulnerable people have been asked to shield themselves during the pandemic as the Government urges residents nationally to ‘stay at home and save lives.’

Pallets of supplies were received from government at Fenton Manor Leisure Centre which since it was shut to members of the public as a result of Covid-19 is now doubling up as a logistical hub to help with distribution of the critical supplies across the city.

Staff from Unitas, the council’s housing repairs company and council staff – some of whom have been redeployed from other non-essential council services that have closed – have worked to co-ordinate the supplies. The packages contain essentials such as bread, milk, toilet roll, pasta, fruit and tinned goods and are enough to give an individual food for a week.

 

Council leader Abi Brown continued: “The situation is fast-paced and ever changing but it’s been extremely heart-warming to hear that alongside the work by #StokeonTrentTogether, the first packages are being delivered to some of the most vulnerable in our city.

 

“We are linking with our suppliers and making the best use of supply chains in the city – such as wholesalers that we have contracts with as well as our City Catering teams – so that we can continue to help the people that we need to.

 

“Across the city, people are standing up to be counted. It’s amazing to see such selfless acts of kindness and support for those in greatest need. I’m so proud of everyone involved. These are extraordinary times where we’re seeing an extraordinary response. I’m in no doubt Stoke-on-Trent will shine in these challenging times.”

 

“Finally we are urging hotels and other accommodation to consider if they can support in our bid to find a suitable location for those who are homeless to stay following new guidance introduced by government. If you think you can help, please get in touch.”

 

Donations can be received at Fenton Manor Sports Complex, in City Road, Fenton or Dimensions Leisure Centre, Scotia Road, Burslem between 8.30am and 4.30pm as well as to other food banks across the city. Donations of food, nappies, baby milk, baby wipes and sanitary products are particularly welcome.

 

Residents can access the #StokeonTrentTogether website via www.corona19.vast.org.uk, or call 0800 5615610 seven days a week between 9am-5pm.

All residents are reminded about the critical importance of regular handwashing with soap and hot water for 20 seconds. The importance of this action cannot be underestimated.

For more information on digital services, visit www.stoke.gov.uk, download the MyStoke App, or follow the city council’s social media channels.

Chamber member, Darren J. Brookes is offering a one to one free coaching session throughout the coronavirus lockdown.

Darren said, “The Covid-19 virus has affected everyone. A lot of business owners have taken a real hit and sadly some people have already completely lost their business. I feel it’s a time where people will have to rethink their strategies, and how they are going to operate in moving forward.”

“For me personally this will mean running my business virtually, as I usually meet clients face to face. Through social media, speaking to clients, colleagues and friends it was apparent that a lot of people are really struggling at the moment; the isolation, not going to work, not connecting with friends and family has had a major impact on peoples overall wellbeing.”

“A few friends reached out to me for support, so I had the idea of running individual coaching sessions for free. I’ve booked clients in for one session, where we can put a plan in place, look at daily habits that will have a positive impact on wellbeing, set goals and develop a positive mindset. Although it is only a single session, it’s setting a positive foundation; for what may be challenging times ahead.”

If you feel that you will benefit from this, then you can contact Darren direct –darren.brookes@mail.com | 07989713920 | http://life-coach-cheshire-staffordshire.co.uk/

Sara’s blog: Working from home

CEO of Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce, Sara Williams, is writing regularly about the impact of the coronavirus on businesses and what support is available.

Many of us are finding ourselves working from home and learning to adapt to this. I find it interesting how this has us communicating in different ways – I am connecting with more people which I’m really enjoying, and the connections are different.

And I am finding it much more tiring than I anticipated! It’s much harder to have the natural breaks between activity and meetings that are a part of typical office life. When based in an office, I talk to colleagues or have time travelling to and from meetings, which gives a bit of space to think about things. And because the current crisis is so all consuming, any small talk we do get to take part in is all about the crisis, rather than other things you’re doing in your life. It’s all concentrated on a limited topic. All of these things are making for a much more intense working experience.

I find it helps me to stick to a working day and to build a little bit of time around taking breaks – even just walking around the house. My husband is working from home too and we make time to speak to each other about things other than work. I’m lucky that my kids have grown up and left home, as coping with children and teenagers in this current situation presents additional challenges for parents.

I really enjoyed the online webinar that Claire Nicoll did for us last week about home working (all of our new webinar series are available to watch online) and she gives some great hints and tips about working from home. Daniel Ellis’s webinar around technology and how to make it work for you is also really valuable.

On top of that, it is, of course, a really difficult time for Staffordshire Chambers members who are facing a range of issues and problems. As the Chambers is a business too, I am facing some of the same concerns as well as making sure that we deliver the best possible service for the business community.

Over the coming weeks, it would be good to chat to others about how you’re finding working from home and how we can best support you.

Staffordshire’s leading business consultancy agency Strategi Solutions Group Ltd is offering advice and support to businesses during the current pandemic of coronavirus.

From HR to marketing and social media to supporting employee mental health Strategi Solutions Group Ltd is offering a range of tools, top tips and advice for businesses across Staffordshire and Cheshire.

Many of the resources are FREE with only specialist and or bespoke support requests being charged at a significantly reduced rate.

“We are here to support,” comments Wendy Dean CEO of Strategi Solutions Group Ltd. “Businesses must pull together at this time and show continued support by sharing skills, experience, knowledge and where possible buying local. I am so proud of the team and the commitment they are showing clients new and old.”

Dean continues: “Whether you are a SME or large corporation the advice we are sharing will apply, so please use it and we hope it benefits you now and or in the future.”

Naturally in Strategi Solutions Ltd style the content is warm and upbeat, encouraging businesses to look for the positives and use this enforced time to future plan and strategize.

To benefit from these resources, businesses are encouraged to follow Strategi Solutions Group Ltd online
Website: www.strategisolutionsgroup.co.uk
Facebook: @strategisolutionsgroup
Twitter: @stratsols
Linkedin: StrategiSolutionsGroup
Or to email them directly hello@strategisolutions.co.uk

“We are very much open for business, the Strategi family are working incredibly hard from home to continue to provide our clients and partners with the best quality service during these unprecedented times. We are here to help and look forward to welcome clients new or old. Please get in touch and say hello, we are available for video calls, audio calls and emails,” says Dean.

An appeal has been made to businesses in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent for PPE equipment for care workers.

Staffordshire County Council is asking for companies to help support the vital work of adult and children social care work and ensure that homecare, care homes, nursing homes, children’s units and frontline social workers have the required PPE to do their jobs safely.

The council is asking if businesses could donate PPE in their stocks to help the authority with its work in dealing with the coronavirus outbreak.

The following list of PPE would be greatly appreciated:

1. Fluid Resistant Surgical Masks
2. Fluid Resistant Surgical Masks with eye protection
3. Small Medium and Large/extra-large nitrile or vinyl gloves
4. Disposable plastic aprons any colour
5. Eye protection glasses
6. Hand wipes
7. Surface wipes
8. Short or long sleeved disposable gowns
9. Hand sanitiser
10. FFP3 masks
11. Zip log bags

Any businesses that can help should contact Becky.lee@staffordshire.gov.uk 

Yesterday the Chancellor announced a major package of support for the self-employed impacted by COVID-19.

This scheme will allow you to claim a taxable grant worth 80% of your trading profits up to a maximum of £2,500 per month for the next 3 months. This may be extended if needed.

Who can apply?

You can apply if you’re a self-employed individual or a member of a partnership and you:

  • have submitted your Income Tax Self Assessment tax return for the tax year 2018-19
  • traded in the tax year 2019-20
  • are trading when you apply, or would be except for COVID-19
  • intend to continue to trade in the tax year 2020-21
  • have lost trading/partnership trading profits due to COVID-19

Your self-employed trading profits must also be less than £50,000 and more than half of your income come from self-employment. This is determined by at least one of the following conditions being true:

  • having trading profits/partnership trading profits in 2018-19 of less than £50,000 and these profits constitute more than half of your total taxable income
  • having average trading profits in 2016-17, 2017-18, and 2018-19 of less than £50,000 and these profits constitute more than half of your average taxable income in the same period

If you started trading between 2016-19, HMRC will only use those years for which you filed a Self-Assessment tax return.

If you have not submitted your Income Tax Self-Assessment tax return for the tax year 2018-19, you must do this by 23 April 2020.

HMRC will use data on 2018-19 returns already submitted to identify those eligible and will risk assess any late returns filed before the 23 April 2020 deadline in the usual way.

How much will I get?

You’ll get a taxable grant which will be 80% of the average profits from the tax years (where applicable):

  • 2016 to 2017
  • 2017 to 2018
  • 2018 to 2019

To work out the average HMRC will add together the total trading profit for the 3 tax years (where applicable) then divide by 3 (where applicable), and use this to calculate a monthly amount.

It will be up to a maximum of £2,500 per month for 3 months.

The grant will be paid directly into your bank account, in one instalment.

How can I apply?

You cannot apply for this scheme yet.

HMRC will contact you if you are eligible for the scheme and invite you to apply online.

Individuals do not need to contact HMRC now and doing so will only delay the urgent work being undertaken to introduce the scheme.

You will access this scheme only through GOV.UK. If someone texts, calls or emails claiming to be from HMRC, saying that you can claim financial help or are owed a tax refund, and asks you to click on a link or to give information such as your name, credit card or bank details, it is a scam.

What is I am not eligbale?

Not all self-employed people will be able to access this scheme and you won’t be able to claim, but there are other options currently available to you:-

  • You can apply for a ‘business interruption loan’. The temporary Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme is open to self-employed people and offers access to loans, overdrafts, invoice finance and asset finance of up to £5 million for up to six years.

    The Government could also give you a ‘business interruption payment’ to cover the first 12 months of interest and fees on the loan.

    The scheme is now open for applications, and you would need to contact one of the major banks to access.

  • You can defer your income tax payments. If you have income tax payments due in July 2020 under the self-assessment system, you can defer them until January 2021.
  • You can access universal credit in full. The Government has removed the ‘minimum income floor’ to the universal credit benefit, and will be boosting the standard allowance from Monday 6 April – meaning a single person aged over 25 could get a standard monthly allowance of £409.89.

 Contact Us

If you have any thoughts or comments you would like to make about the Self-employment Income Support Scheme, then please get in touch. Staffordshire Chambers wants to ensure local businesses views are shared back to government.

Contact us by phoning 01782 202222 or info@staffordshirechambers.co.uk or looking at our Coronavirus Toolkit