Buckinghamshire and Aylesbury Vale business community updates MPs on concerns over Coronavirus recovery

Local business leaders and stakeholders met with Buckinghamshire’s MP earlier this month.
Local business leaders and stakeholders met with Buckingham's MP Greg SmithLocal business leaders and stakeholders met with Buckingham's MP Greg Smith
Local business leaders and stakeholders met with Buckingham's MP Greg Smith

The meeting was part of the latest Buckinghamshire Business First MP Briefing, designed to support the recovery and resilience of businesses and discuss the results of a ‘Return to Work’ survey recently undertaken by Buckinghamshire Business First and Chandler Garvey.

Joining businesses in the virtual meeting were Greg Smith MP (Buckingham); Joy Morrissey MP (Beaconsfield); and a representative from Dame Cheryl Gillan’s office (MP for Chesham and Amersham).

Following the publication of the Buckinghamshire ‘Return to Work’ survey, which uncovered a seismic shift from only 16% of employees working from home full time to almost 100% during lockdown; the challenges of home working and its impact on the local economy were discussed.

Whilst home working was forced upon the vast majority of businesses in March, many now choose to continue this way of working permanently, even if given the opportunity of returning to their workplace. Benefits to companies include reduced overheads and benefits to employees include reduced travel time and costs and increased flexibility in their daily lives, creating real incentives for organisations to consider home working for their staff in the long term.

Philippa Batting Managing Director of Buckinghamshire Business First said: “Businesses highlighted their ongoing challenges and concerns to our local MPs as they attempt to reach the other side of this pandemic. New ways of working will bring new challenges along with the ongoing impact of COVID-19 on businesses. Further change is also looming with loan repayments in respect of government funding due to start in 2021 and furlough ending in the autumn of this year.”

Philippa added “While most businesses are now able to reopen, there are sub-sectors of the business community still facing big risks due to a combination of travel restrictions, social distancing measures and consumer confidence levels. Such businesses and sectors include coach companies, beauty companies, the aviation industry and the events and hospitality industry.”

Businesses took the opportunity to emphasize what support they and others still require from government, and to highlight other areas of concern. Thoughts included:

Business rates, which can’t be negotiated, unlike rent, can exacerbate cash flow issues. Furlough scheme – businesses highlighted the end of the Job Retention Scheme as a big challenge, with job losses expected locally and nationally off the back of the scheme ending in October 2020.

Government loans – businesses hoping for flexibility around deadlines for applying for further government support, in light of uncertainty for business owners over whether further support will be needed before the next deadline for applications.

Further support still needed for the self-employed, including those in the hard-hit hospitality industry.

Repayment of loans – the point was made that when loans need to be repaid in 2021, SMEs would benefit from only having to make repayments when they are back in profit or when cash flow has significantly improved.

Support for start-ups – the support available for start-ups to progress to scale-ups was questioned, with the Buckinghamshire Business First Growth Programme highlighted as one useful avenue for businesses with growth ambitions.

During the event the impact of COVID-19 on Buckinghamshire was highlighted, along with Government support, which included 73,500 employments furloughed (29% take-up rate), 613 loans offered under the CBILS business loan scheme totalling £145,625,435, and 9,728 Bounce Back Loans amounting to £310,867,382.

The impact on Buckinghamshire so far is largely in line with the national picture. The most recent local labour market analysis (by the Joseph Roundtree Foundation) suggests that Buckinghamshire might recover more quickly than other parts of the UK. Buckinghamshire’s strategic growth sectors - high performance manufacturing, creative industries, space, med-tech - are likely to be resilient in the medium to long-term.

Philippa added: “With an emerging national picture of both individuals and companies moving out of London, Buckinghamshire’s entrepreneurial economy and skilled workforce should hold us in good stead.”