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

You may well have seen the concerning news today that, according to BBC News, nearly a fifth of all small and medium-sized businesses in the UK are unlikely to get the cash they need to survive the next four weeks, in spite of government support. This of course will cause a lot of worry for businesses, and I want to start by assuring you that Staffordshire Chambers will do all we can to help you through this and to make sense of what support is available.

Businesses need to make sure they’re getting all the money they are owed, and do what they can to slow down the cash leaving them. Cash is always king and if cash isn’t coming through then it’s a real struggle for businesses.

I’m conscious that lots of businesses have applied for government schemes, but that the time it is taking for them to be paid through the scheme, or to even just get the information about it, means businesses – of whatever size – may be struggling.

There are schemes in place that mean businesses won’t be evicted if they can’t pay their rent, but some landowners aren’t aware of this or are pushing businesses to pay and threatening to take them to court, which of course creates a great deal of added anxiety to those at the receiving end. I would urge anyone in this position to let us know, and also to talk to their landlords as much as they can about this.

Another issue that’s coming up is around advice. People are naturally giving each other advice to try to navigate the complicated and unprecedented situation we’re all in. While it’s great to see people trying to support one another, advice needs to be checked against sources, such as the information provided by the Chambers, the Staffordshire Growth Hub, and, of course, official government websites. I’ve been hearing that people are interpreting things in what may be a pragmatic way but could end up with them being in trouble in the future if they’re not careful. So if you’re given advice, whether from friends, family, or business owners – check it.

As always, please don’t hesitate get in touch with the Chambers whether you are a member or not. We’re all working hard to support the business community at this challenging time. While our offices are closed, our phonelines are open 8am-6pm every day – call us on 01782 202222. The Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Growth Hub are also providing great support and dealing with your queries, so give them a ring on 0300 111 8002.

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.

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.

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

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

The big news many of are waiting on today is for the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak MP, to unveil financial aid for self-employed people. There are around 5 million self-employed people in this country, many of whom have lost their income overnight and who are anxious to find out what government support will become available to help them through. There’s been a hint that support will only be given to those who have been trading for three years. I’m lobbying hard for there to be support for all self-employed people.

Another current concern is the news that some banks are asking for personal guarantees on Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS). This requirement loads most of the risk that the loan goes bad onto the business owner, rather than the banks. Let us know if you’ve been asked to do this so we can raise the issue for you. It’s not fair that business owners are being asked to take more risk, especially at what is already a stressful time.

It’s also worth mentioning that VAT is being deferred for three months – but you’ll still need to file your VAT returns as usual and make sure you cancel your direct debit as otherwise the payment will still go out as before.

At Staffordshire Chambers, we’re working closely with the British Chambers of Commerce and the chamber network across the country to be the voice of business. The British Chambers’ Director General, Adam Marshall, is meeting weekly with the governor of the Bank of England, and daily with heads of various government departments, including BEIS, to ensure our voices are heard and we are a key part of the conversation.

If you raise a concern with us, we share it with the British Chambers. This means there is a direct line to the top through your local Chamber, whatever your issue is.

Remember, everyone at Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce is working hard to support the business community at this challenging time. While our offices are closed, our phonelines are open 8am-6pm every day – call us on 01782 202222. The Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Growth Hub are also still providing great support and dealing with your queries – give them a ring on 0300 111 8002.

We’re here to support the people and businesses of Staffordshire during the coronavirus pandemic and beyond.

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 this time of crisis, the accredited chambers across the country are working hard to lobby the government with the aim of getting the best support possible for businesses while we deal with the coronavirus outbreak.

Over the past couple of days, there’s been a lot of news that will have an impact for businesses – some good, some bad – and the British Chambers of Commerce, learning from what our members are saying, have been influencing government to try and get better help and FASTER!

Amongst the help is the Business Interruption Loan Scheme, which the government is offering to support primarily small and medium-sized businesses to access bank lending, asset finance support and overdrafts, and will be up to £250,000 with a six month interest free period. It is meant to be easy for you to get – contact your bank to get it set up.

We’re aware, however, that banks themselves are suffering, as all businesses are, with staffing. We’ve been asked by UK Finance and the British Chambers of Commerce to notify them of any banks that are taking too long to provide this service. So if you find it difficult, please let me know on info@staffordshirechambers.co.uk.

A current campaign is to persuade the government for VAT and PAYE suspension in advance of the next tax point and that the business rates rebate can be extended – this is what you have been asking for and we are asking government. The announcement on wages support should be made today – something else we have asked for as a result of your requests.

Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce is here to support you. We’re a business ourselves, so we understand how challenging this unprecedented time is. Our expert advisors, which include Matt Hustwit providing financial guidance, and Joe Gill answering your HR queries, are here help. Together, we will get through this.

Legionella control experts, SAS Water Ltd,  are seeing an upturn of enquiries regarding water safety if premises need to be locked down due to the current coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis.

The Leek-based company works with companies and public sector organisations across the UK including hotels, leisure centres, holiday parks, factories, social housing companies and care homes.

Managing Director Lizzie Ward said: “It is clear that the advice to self-isolate, combined with more workers showing symptoms of the virus, is going to shut down a lot of business places. So far, we have been informed of factories, leisure facilities, pubs, cafes, restaurants and holiday parks which are potentially mothballing facilities.

“This means, for example, there will be many shower blocks and washrooms left empty.

“Stagnant water is amongst the biggest factors in the growth of Legionella bacteria – showers must be flushed regularly and water testing needs to be continued.

We have received advice from our professional body, the Legionnaire Control Association (LCA), which states that there is a significant element of work by LCA members that must be completed on site and is likely to be time critical.

“This means that building managers must be made aware of their responsibilities under the law and how their actions may be compromising their control of legionella. The LCA has advised legionella control companies to offer pragmatic solutions if possible, to ensure ongoing control including safe shutdown of water systems if a building is to be closed.

“Our staff will still need access to premises. We are committed to working safety and our consultants will follow protocols to ensure ‘social distancing’ is practiced, hands are repeatedly washed with soap and water and, of course, we have told staff not to shake hands with clients. We’re aware that clients may have their own protocols in place and we are ensuring all requests are complied with.

“Where buildings or water systems are isolated during the COVID-19 outbreak, a risk assessment will be required before reopening. “
To find out more about SAS Water Ltd, please go online to www.saswater.co.uk.

Overview.
Retail businesses across Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire have been some of the hardest hit as a consequence of the Coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak.
The Government has set out a package of temporary, timely and targeted measures to support retail, hospitality and leisure business with the current COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Pandemic.
This Factsheet sets out the range of support currently available. *

Financial Support for Retailers.
• A temporary business rates relief for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses in England for the 2020 to 2021 tax year. Any enquiries on eligibility for, or provision of, the reliefs should be directed to your local authority.
• A £25,000 grant will be provided to retail, hospitality and leisure businesses operating from smaller premises, with a rateable value between £15,000 and £51,000.
Any enquiries on eligibility for, or provision of, the reliefs should be directed to your local authority.
• Additional funding for local authorities to support small businesses that already pay little or no business rates because of small business rate relief (SBBR) has been announced. This will provide a one-off grant of £10,000 to businesses currently eligible for SBRR. Any enquiries on eligibility for, or provision of, the reliefs should be directed to your local authority.
• Small businesses should consider the Crowdfunder PAY IT FORWARD scheme. In this time of crisis, Crowdfunder is offering 100% FREE fundraising for your business along with support from Enterprise Nation. This support can be accessed through the PAY IT FORWARD website.
• A new loan scheme, called the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, will launch on the week commencing 23rd March 2020. This will cover loans and overdrafts. To access the scheme you should contact your bank or finance provide. A list of all 40 accredited providers will be available on the British Business Bank website in due course.

Tax Support for Retailers.
• HMRC have set up a phone helpline to support businesses and self-employed people who are concerned about people not being able to pay their tax. You call this helpline on 0800 0159 559
Insurance Support for Retailers.
• Businesses that have cover for both pandemics and Government-ordered closure should be covered, as the Government and insurance industry confirmed on 17 March 2020 that advice to avoid pubs, theatres etc is sufficient to make a claim.
• Insurance policies differ significantly, so businesses are encouraged to check the terms and conditions of their specific policy and contact their providers.
Employment Support for Retailers.
• Statutory Sick Pay will now be available for eligible individuals diagnosed with COVID-19 or those who are unable to work as they are self-isolating in line with Government advice. More information regarding this can be found on Gov.UK website.
• You can always contact the Chamber’s HR Expert, who will be able to answer any questions or provide further support on these areas. Contact joseph.gill@staffordshirechambers.co.uk to arrange a conversation.
Support for Business Crime.
• If you are facing any incidences of business crime, including online fraud, Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce currently offer a Business Crime Helpline number which can provide free, independent advice and support. We can also link you to a register of support organizations who are able to provide expert advice over the phone. You call this helpline on 01782 900239.
For the latest information and advice, UK employers and business owners should visit the official guidance for employers and businesses.
* Further fiscal measures are expected in coming days. There may be some variations to the above measures announced among devolved nations.

Key Contacts.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council – 01782 234234
Staffordshire County Council – 0300 111 8000
Stafford Borough Council – 01785 619000
Newcastle Borough Council – 01782 717717
Staffordshire Moorlands District Council – 0345 605 3010
South Staffordshire District Council – 01902 696000
Lichfield District Council – 01543 308000
Cannock Chase District Council – 01543 462621
Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce – 01782 202222
Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Business Helpline – 0300 111 8002
HMRC Helpline – 0800 0159 559

Useful Links

Gov.uk (Coronavirus Support for Employers) – www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/covid-19-support-for-businesses

British Business Bank – www.british-business-bank.co.uk/

PAY IT FORWARD – www.crowdfunder.co.uk/pay-it-forward

Late Payment Information – www.smallbusinesscommissioner.gov.uk

Paying HMRC – www.gov.uk/difficulties-paying-hmrc

ACAS – https://www.acas.org.uk/coronavirus

Staffordshire Prepared – https://www.staffordshireprepared.gov.uk/Preparing-your-business/Is-your-business-prepared.aspx

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

It was really good to see yesterday that the Chancellor and Prime Minister were so clear that they want to do whatever it takes to help businesses, with the announcement of £350bn of help for companies. Businesses of all sizes will certainly need supporting over the coming months.

While I’m so pleased to see the government is giving a range of support, there needs to be more than loans. Businesses are worried about how they would repay these loans, especially as they see what’s happening around their customers and suppliers.

I hope that we will see more measures announced soon.

If you have any concerns, remember that Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce is here to help. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us and we’ll do all we can to support the business community to get through this together.

Sara Williams, CEO of Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce, shares her thoughts on International Women’s Day and the role of women in business:

I’ve seen how International Women’s Day has grown in stature and prominence over the years. When I was first involved, it was quite a minor thing and quite periphery, whereas now it’s a major event and a lot of organisations want to do something about it.

Here at Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce, we’re marking this year’s International Women’s Day with our #EachForEqual event on Monday 9th March. I’ll be sharing my journey to become the CEO of the Chambers and some of the challenges and biases I’ve faced and overcome.

I’m also speaking at the Erwin Hymer Centre Travelworld International Women’s Day event later that afternoon, which will be really interesting as it’ll be a different audience and lots in people in Stafford who I’ve not met before. I’m very much looking forward to it.

And that’s just what I’m doing – there’s loads of events going on across Staffordshire and beyond to mark this important day.

I’m excited to share that we’ll be launching our Women, Work and Wellbeing Network, supported by NatWest and Plum Happy, at our International Women’s Day event. The network will see a variety of activities throughout the year, from workshops on self-awareness and challenging self-limiting beliefs through to social events such as a summer barbeque and Christmas party.

I’m looking forward to seeing some great inspirational speakers and getting to meet lots of women who are Chambers members at these events.

I want the Women, Work and Wellbeing Network to show the number of up and coming women who I come across that there are women who have been there and done it and got the t-shirt and that they haven’t pulled the ladder up behind them – they want to help and encourage other women into leadership.

I hope that the network supports women in being more confident: more confident to take on leadership roles, more confident to start their own businesses, more confident in public speaking. I find it really interesting how women lack confidence – even successful women – and so the network is about helping women feel good about themselves, build their confidence and take on those much greater roles of inspiring, leading and developing.

These days I do see more women in more powerful positions and having more prominence. We need to strengthen the equality between men and women so that we get away from the idea that business has a macho male culture and understand instead that it is just business and it can be done in lots of different ways.

It’s worth us thinking about what we do after International Women’s Day to make sure women aren’t side-lined in just having a day and that we embrace the real impact we have on the economy and society.

How can we engage more women, and get more women into the boardroom and senior roles? How can we make sure women aren’t seen as tokens but are recognised for the real drive, ambition and qualities we can bring to any organisation?

Those are some of the challenges over the next year, and we need to think how we as the Chambers can support overcoming these, both through the Women, Work and Wellbeing Network and everything we do.