Chamber welcomes further winter support for customer facing businesses

Rebecca George

The Chamber of Commerce has welcomed Government’s decision to offer additional support for local customer facing businesses during the winter months.

The Island’s biggest business network has lobbied Ministers on behalf of its members, and played an active role in the process to draw up the support plans.

Following the recent Economic Recovery Group (ERG) announcement about extending support via the COVID-19 Winter Disruption Scheme, Chamber CEO Rebecca George commented: “This is good news for businesses, and we welcome the support packages that have been announced which will help businesses that have been hit hardest recently.

In early November, via feedback gained through Chamber’s new Local Economy Forum, we identified a clear change in consumer behaviour. For many local customer facing businesses, the usual run-up to Christmas started slowly. Cancellations began to hit a number of sectors in November, notably restaurants, plus businesses in the hair and beauty and health and fitness sectors. We carried out a survey to find out more, which was widely circulated amongst our members, the Licensed Victuallers Association (LVA), and social media channels covering hair, beauty and other local company Facebook groups. The survey collated both data and comments from businesses, all of which painted a bleak picture as we headed towards Christmas and New Year.”

Chamber then summarised its findings which were submitted to the Economic Recovery Group (that includes the Treasury and Enterprise Ministers) to ensure they had background data regarding the worsening position across local small businesses sectors.

“We’re grateful to Government for taking the unprecedented action of inviting senior Chamber representatives to meet with ERG to present the findings and take questions,” says the Chamber CEO. “Since then Government has sought more information and interviewed businesses directly to understand the impact of falling consumer confidence and increasing cancellations. As always, it’s good to see Ministers listening and responding to our members’ concerns, and taking swift action to provide support.”

She continued: “The money earned by customer facing businesses in December usually sustains them until Easter – it has always worked like this. With borders closed, December 2020 was good, but this year has been a very different scenario. Initially scheme rules based on previous scenarios were proposed. Chamber explained why things have changed, not least current inflation rates. On behalf of customer facing businesses, we are therefore pleased to see that both Ministers and ERG closely monitored the unfolding scenario of falling demand, increasing inflation, and shortages due to Covid and related issues regarding shipping and the lack of HGV drivers. The flexibility around the scheme rules means that there are now built-in allowances for increasing costs and falling demand.”

While the support scheme decision was good news, said the CEO, she is aware that there is more work to do for some emerging business sectors that appear to have been missed off this round of support, and reassures that Chamber will continue to represent their needs to ERG. In the meantime she hopes that the general public will also play a part in helping small, independent local businesses this winter. She concluded: “What we would like to see now is everyone safely getting out and spending at their favourite local shops, cafes, gyms, hairdressers, beauticians, yoga class, bars, pet care providers, restaurants and markets to give businesses in all those sectors an even bigger boost, in addition to these much needed support packages.”