Northern businesses fear future as lockdown measures continue

10 September 2020, 19:56

Sarah Collins

By Sarah Collins

With the Government’s furlough scheme due to end in October, many businesses in Greater Manchester and Lancashire are worried how they’ll survive the next few months.

Parts of the region were placed into a local lockdown after a spike in cases, some of which has now been relaxed.

Andy Brown runs Crow Wood Hotel and Spa Resort in Burnley, which has now had restrictions lifted, meaning most of the resort's services can now run.

Read more: Weekly coronavirus cases at their highest since launch of Test and Trace

However, he says they still have a testing time ahead, especially with a ban on gatherings of more than six meeting coming into place from Monday.

He told LBC News: “The principle concern for the food and beverage industry is Christmas because that’s when most people in our industry make the most of their annual profit and if people can’t trade in December then a lot of them are going to be in real, real trouble.

File photo: People shopping in Oldham
File photo: People shopping in Oldham. Picture: PA

"The messages at the minute are social distancing and it’s very hard to get 200 people together under those sort of conditions.

“We will survive it’s just how profitable that business will be, we are operating with one hand tied behind our back at the moment."

That’s a worry being echoed across the country as the traditional busy party season draws closer.

This week saw hospitality businesses in Bolton placed under new measures, meaning restaurants can only operate as takeaways until further notice.

Towns surrounding Bolton are now concerned the same thing could happen there.

John Patrick runs a concert venue in Rossendale, which has also seen an increase in infection rates.

He says that has meant he’s had to delay re-opening and the next few weeks will be about surviving.

There has been some good news for town centres and high streets in the North West.

Many of the smaller towns have seen a return of customers with the majority of places seeing footfall return to pre-lockdown levels.

The challenge now is supporting towns like Blackburn, Oldham, Bolton and Nelson as it is these towns which had been seeing recovery but are now under local lockdowns.

Christian Spence is head of Economic Analytics at Manchester Metropolitan University, and says the post-Covid landscape across the North West could look very different.

He said: “A lot of the public criticism in areas where the government’s response to coronavirus has seemed poor in terms of mobilising testing has been caught up in the aftermath of funding cuts into local government over the past ten years or so.

"We’re entering a difficult economic climate which ideally you wouldn’t have started from, now certainly the treasury has moved really fast and at scale in terms of the job retention scheme and the business loans the question now is how do go forward from here, so what I think what has been done for the past six months it’s not far from as best as we could wish for.

“One of the things we’ve since the country entered its first formal lockdown back in March and it’s unwinding is a flip in economic development that we’ve seen in the country over the past twenty or so years.

"The cities and densest environments that we’ve historically considered to be the most successful, the most dynamic and the most growth enabling are those where we’re currently seeing the least economic activity.

"The commuter towns, the smaller towns like the outer lying towns of Greater Manchester are looking pretty close to, and some are exceeding, their pre lockdown numbers and are about three quarters into seeing the footfall they once had. So, there’s a change in economic geography, people are staying closer to home, they aren’t commuting which is seeing smaller towns benefit."

However, many businesses say that in order for them to continue seeing the benefit, they need Government support to be extended beyond next month.

Professor Spence said now is a critical time for independent businesses and town centres.

He added: “There is an opportunity here, but government needs to make sure there is the appropriate short-term support to get through issues of local lockdown and temporary challenges, that’s currently the bit that is missing.

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“To let them disappear now would be a waste of economic activity, if it’s just about sustaining temporarily then why wouldn’t you? The really difficult decision is what do you do with those industries that you think may have gone."

That need for extra help is being repeated from politicians and community leaders in the North West, despite that a motion put forward in Parliament yesterday to extend the furlough and self-employment scheme was rejected.

Labour had called on the Government to “abandon its one-size-fits-all withdrawal, and instead offer targeted income support to businesses and self-employed people in those sectors of the economy that have been hardest hit by the virus."

That news came as a disappointment to Mo Congress, who is self-employed and lives in Blackburn.

He said: "There’s just real uncertainty we don’t know what’s going to happen when, if we’re going to go into further increased measures, if measures are going to be taken away.

"There’s not been an extra help available for beauticians, gyms. Even myself, I’m a self-employed IT contractor but have been doing charity work throughout the pandemic, its really difficult to get back into contracts now.

"We definitely need some more government funding at this stage as this is when we need it most."

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