Business leaders respond to the return of tiered restrictions

By Nick Batten on 30 November, 2020

Last week, the Government announced that, on Wednesday 2nd December, the South West region will move from the national restrictions to high-risk alert level (Tier 2) for Bath and North East Somerset, and to very high-risk alert level (Tier 3) for Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire. In the wake of this news, we spoke to a number of local business leaders to hear their thoughts on what this means for the region…

Deborah Fraser, Regional Director of South West of England for the Confederation of British Industry (CBI)  

“For many businesses in the South West of England going into toughened tiers while waiting for a vaccine will feel like suspended animation.

“Some parts of the economy, such as retail, can begin to re-open and look towards a recovery. It gives our high streets a chance to rescue some of the vital festive trading periods.

“But for other businesses the ongoing restrictions in tiers 2 and 3 will leave their survival hanging by a thread. Hospitality will remain frozen. And supply chains that cross regions in different tiers will be hit even if they don’t face direct restrictions.

“It’s vital that these firms receive the financial support they need to make it through to the Spring. Clarity about ongoing employment support, including the Job Retention Bonus, will help protect as many jobs as possible. Businesses need to know what support will be there through to March and beyond in advance, rather than taking it down to the wire.

“Lessons must be learned from previous local lockdowns. Boundary lines between different tiers need to work on the ground. Trigger points for exiting the higher tiers must be transparent.

“Those decisions will need to be clearly communicated each fortnight and taken collaboratively between local, regional and national leaders. Most importantly, evidence must be open and transparent – the cost to jobs is only justifiable if it has a material impact on health.

“Liverpool’s shift to tier 2 is clear evidence that mass testing can make a real difference on the ground. So there is encouraging news on mass rapid testing and vaccines, and it’s vital to protect jobs and businesses with an end in sight.”

Phil Smith,  Managing Director, Business West

“Business West is disappointed with the news that most of the West of England region around and including Bristol has been placed into the highest level of restrictions, Tier 3 which will effectively continue the national lockdown for this area, with only Bath & North East Somerset in Tier 2. It is better news for the rest of the region including the counties of Wiltshire and Gloucestershire and Swindon, who have been placed in Tier 2, however, restrictions here will stop many businesses from being able to operate fully.

“Grant support via the business rates system continues to be available for premises required to remain closed in Tier 3 areas, but that is small comfort compared to the lost earnings for those businesses. The full detail for other support is not clear, but many supply chain businesses and those mandated to close look like not being eligible for any further grants that have not yet been announced.

“The restrictions will have a chilling impact on the region’s economy and its ability to recover into the new year – and is very disappointing news for the many businesses for who the run-up to Christmas is a vital time for earnings. The outlook for our hospitality and leisure sectors in the Bristol area is a very significant worry for political and business leaders across the region. We urge everyone to redouble their efforts to comply with social distancing, to allow us to get the virus under control and start to ease restrictions before Christmas and into the new year.”

Tim Bowles, Mayor for the West of England

“We still have high numbers of cases of the virus across the West of England and it is vital that we all take action to protect lives and livelihoods and take pressure off our NHS.

“I understand that having two levels of alert within the region will be challenging and we are working with public transport operators to clarify what the different restrictions across council areas will mean for our residents and businesses. Through supporting each other, following the guidelines and adapting our behaviours, we can slow the spread of the virus and begin to recover as quickly as possible.

“I appreciate that we are facing economic and personal challenges the likes of which we have never seen before, but it is vital that we listen to the advice from the NHS and the Government.

“The West of England Combined Authority offers support to businesses and individuals across our region. Over the last few months, we have supported thousands of businesses with everything from trading online to mental health support and retraining for employees.

“We have an ambitious and robust Regional Recovery Plan, that we have developed with businesses and our communities to secure decent well- paid jobs. The plan builds on work already underway so that we can all have the confidence to emerge strongly from the pandemic and build back better.”

The West England Combined Authority Committee has committed £9.4m additional funding for this work – this is in addition to the £100m investment already committed to businesses and skills over the next four years. This includes business support, skills and employment initiatives.

It builds on the work that the Combined Authority has led during the pandemic including investment in cycling and walking initiatives, including the Joy in the Journey campaign to support residents to walk or cycle, expanding skills programmes such as Future Bright to help residents find employment and support for businesses to adapt and recover.”

Ruth Lambert Development Manager, Somerset and Wiltshire, for the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB)

“These have been trying and difficult times for so many, and with the festive season upon us, it’s never been more important to see trading resume once again. Many small businesses will be issuing a sigh of relief that they can operate in tier two in what is the busiest month of the year for many. However, the challenges are prevalent for many in the hospitality sector and we must encourage people to support them in this time of need”

“These past nine months have been among some of the most difficult that small firms have ever had to endure and that hardship looks set to continue.

“Small firms in all Tiers will want reassurance about how long these measures will remain in place, and the longer-term measures we can expect to face in the New Year. In order to safeguard jobs and livelihoods, the Government must set out a roadmap as soon as possible.

“In the recent Spending Review, we heard very little about the importance of business and private-sector job creation and it was also a missed opportunity to help company directors and the newly self-employed who have been left with little or no support all year. Small firms and the self-employed in particular will be desperate for the Government to introduce new measures to address the gaping holes in support that remain untouched.

“Meanwhile we would urge the public to continue to shop local, shop small and shop small online where possible. Small businesses for many are the beating heart of our communities and we must band together to make sure we save small firms and jobs from being lost right across the nation.”

Full government guidance on the new restrictions can be found here.