BUSINESS leaders in Milton Keynes and Northamptonshire have welcomed the roadmap out of lockdown. But they have warned that firms in the region will still need more support to survive the Covid-19 crisis.
In an address to Parliament, Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out the timeline when restrictions could be gradually lifted but said the easing of lockdown would be guided by data, not dates.
He said he wanted the current lockdown to be the last and the easing of restrictions to be irreversible, beginning with the reopening of schools and other education establishments on March 8, building to a potential full reopening of society and the economy on June 21.
Louise Wall, interim chief executive of Milton Keynes and Northamptonshire Chambers of Commerce, said: “This has been an incredibly challenging time for businesses throughout our region, with some sectors being even hit harder than others.
“It has also been a huge challenge for the government to get the balance right between the health of the economy and the health of the nation. Therefore those in business will welcome the sentiment that this should be the final lockdown and will support the cautious reopening of the economy based on the data at the time.”
The optimism that Mr Johnson’s announcement brings will be short-lived for many businesses if they run out of cash between now and when they can reopen, she added.
“The Prime Minister did say that the Budget would see further announcements on support for businesses and we would urge the Chancellor to extend schemes such as Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and business rates holidays to give companies space to manoeuvre.
“Further to that, we have to have a plan of support for when the economy does reopen as, for many firms, it will not simply be a case of flicking a switch as so many have laid dormant for a big part of the past year.”
Nationally, the government timeline has been welcomed by Chambers around the country. British Chambers of Commerce director general Dr Adam Marshall said: “It is helpful that many businesses across England can now see a path to restart and recovery.
“Absolute clarity and honesty will be needed every step of the way over the weeks ahead so that businesses have a fighting chance to rebuild. The stop-start dynamic of the past year, which has so damaged businesses and communities, must come to an end.”
However, the future of thousands of firms and millions of jobs still hangs by a thread, Dr Marshall warned. He called for the government support schemes for businesses to be extended throughout 2021 where possible.
“Many hard-hit businesses simply do not have the cash reserves needed to hold out several more months before they are allowed to reopen.
“Businesses will hold the Prime Minister to his pledge to support firms for the duration of the pandemic as this gruelling marathon nears its end. Businesses have haemorrhaged billions of pounds over the past year and need action now.”
Dr Marshall said the Covid testing taking place in workplaces should be expanded to every business and should continue ”for as long as is necessary to help keep our companies and communities open over the months ahead.”
He also called for a co-ordinated international approach to the safe restart of international travel – “critical to UK trade, to hundreds of thousands of UK jobs, and to the prospects for a Global Britain”, Dr Marshall said.
The task forces convened to look at how to reopen sectors critical to local economies must deliver results quickly. “The long wait continues for some businesses of critical importance to our local economies, including events,” he said.