Firms warn Covid-19 support not enough in ‘loud cry for help’

Holly Williams, PA Deputy City Editor

More than a third of business managers believe the Government has failed to do enough to support firms through the pandemic in a “loud cry for help” from UK corporates, research has revealed.

A study compiled for the PA news agency by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) found that 36% of UK business managers believe the Government’s support packages have not gone far enough.

But the poll showed firms in London and Scotland feel most let down by Government support measures during the pandemic.

Managers survey
(PA Graphics)

More than half – 51% – of managers polled in Scotland and 41% of those in London said Government support had failed to adequately help firms in the face of the crisis.

The CMI said this likely reflects the battering the London economy has taken in the pandemic, while showing the dismay in Scotland over the divergence in approach between Nicola Sturgeon (First Minister) and Westminster.

In a clear message to Chancellor Rishi Sunak ahead of next month’s Budget, the vast majority of managers also backed industry-wide calls for furlough and support measures to be extended.

Ann Francke, chief executive of the CMI, said the results showed a “pretty loud cry for help”.

She said the findings reflected frustration among firms over a lack of clarity from the Government on the road-map for getting the UK out of lockdown.

CMI boss Ann Francke said firms want clarity over the road map out of lockdown (CMI/PA)
CMI boss Ann Francke said firms want clarity over the road map out of lockdown (CMI/PA)

“It’s the lack of transparency around the decision making that is making managers frustrated,” she said.

“It’s incredibly difficult to plan in these circumstances and that’s driving the frustration.”

She said managers were dismayed at the “shifting sands” with the rules throughout the second wave of the pandemic.

Those surveyed were pessimistic that the lockdown would be lifted for businesses before the summer, with only 39% confident it would end by Easter and 82% hopeful restrictions would be lifted by July.

“What they’d like to see is greater clarity on what exactly the basis is for making these decisions – if we can’t get a date (for when lockdown is ending), then at least give us the basis or reasoning,” said Ms Francke.

The CMI polled 1,154 business managers across the UK at the end of January and February.

More than 80% (84%) of those surveyed said the furlough scheme for workers should be extended and nearly nine out of 10 managers (89%) believe the business rates holiday should be extended.

The findings also showed over-whelming support for an extension of the temporary cut to VAT from 20% to 5% on on hospitality and tourism, with backing for the move from 84% of managers.

Failure to extend the measures could put the UK’s economic bounce back from the crisis in jeopardy, according to the survey, with 95% of managers saying the recovery would be impacted by at least a small extent and 47% saying to a great extent.

But the CMI urged Mr Sunak to look at a more targeted measures for support going forward.

“If you’re Amazon or a supermarket and you’re thriving, then you don’t need these schemes, it’s about putting the support where it’s needed,” Ms Francke said.

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