On Thursday 30th April, our CEO Helen Dickinson gave evidence to the BEIS Select Committee’s virtual evidence session on the impact of coronavirus on businesses and workers. 

Helen opened by outlining the transformation that the industry was already seeing before the pandemic and highlighted the different experiences for those retailers who are continuing to operate and those who cannot. The point was made that Government must not turn off tap when restrictions lifted or at end of June, as demand will not simply revert back to the levels it was at before. Measures should phase out gradually. There is also an opportunity to decide what longer-term reform and strategy is needed for businesses and the economy.

On the CJRS, Helen made the point that it has protected jobs for now and the extension to the end of June was very welcome, but emphasised the need for it to be phased out as restrictions are lifted to avoid a cliff edge and possible job losses. Business decisions on this will have to be made soon, so clarity is needed quickly.

Helen also explained some of the details of the space furlough scheme we have proposed with the BPF and Revo, highlighting the importance of a collaborative approach between tenant, landlord and Government.

On the Government’s loan and grant schemes, Helen talked about the barriers to access, including State Aid provisions restricting access to grants, and again called for the support to be made available on an ongoing basis or to be phased out over time to avoid a cliff edge for businesses. The Committee appeared to want to go into more detail on possible regional disparities in the support, given a company’s rateable value differs depending where it is and affects access to some schemes.  

A key moment in the session came when the Committee moved on to discuss the easing of lockdown restrictions. Helen urged the Government to remain open to new ideas about what support will be necessary as we head out of lockdown and embrace economic unknowns. This is not the end of the crisis, simply a move to next phase of the crisis. Current support schemes should be phased out, not immediately ended to ensure businesses maintain liquidity and jobs are protected.

Further to this, the issue of safety in the workplace was raised, both in terms of PPE and social distancing, and abuse of shop workers. Helen flagged our new guidelines on social distancing and safety in the workplace for non-food retailers, which will help retailers to start preparing now for eventual reopening and will help to ensure the safety of staff and customers. There is a need for clear and consistent guidance across UK.

Finally, on payments Helen emphasised that those who can pay suppliers, should pay and highlighted examples of good practices amongst those who have the necessary cash flow to maintain payments to small suppliers in particular.

You can access details about the session here.