Cumbria Chamber of Commerce has submitted written evidence to the House of Commons’ Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee, which is investigating the impact of coronavirus on businesses and workers.
Chamber Chief Executive Rob Johnston said: “We’ve told the Committee it would be a fatal error for the Government to pull support for businesses once coronavirus restrictions are relaxed.
“There won’t be a return to normal in the foreseeable future.
“For example, when retail and hospitality businesses are allowed to reopen, will they have to operate at reduced capacity to observe social distancing? Will customers want to eat out, go on holiday, visit the theatre or use public transport? Will consumers return the high street or prefer to shop online?
“Our coronavirus survey, completed by more than 500 businesses, reveals that 72 per cent believe they are at risk of going under within six months.
“Government interventions will be required for many more months if we are to avoid a high level of insolvencies.
“The Job Retention Scheme, which pays 80 per cent of the salaries of employees who cannot work, is the business equivalent of a life-support machine. Once it’s switched off, there’s a danger that many of these people will lose their jobs.”
The Chamber’s submission identifies 12 gaps in the Government’s support package. Plugging these would help thousands of businesses that fail to qualify for grants or business rate relief or who struggle to access loans.
Rob added: “We flagged up other issues, such as rising pension scheme deficits and the difficulties auditors will have in signing off accounts on a going concern basis. We’ve also suggested refinements to the Government’s coronavirus support package. We’ve asked for grants to help businesses observe social distancing guidance, for example a manufacturer that needs to reconfigure its production lines.
“And we’ve put the case to extend the Job Retention Scheme beyond June and to make it more flexible to allow employers to retain staff on reduced hours with furlough payments covering the days employees are not working.”