As a network championing hundreds of creative businesses and individuals across Bristol, we’ve been working closely with our members to support them through the challenges of COVID-19. Part of that support has been to represent members on The West of England Combined Authority’s Regional Recovery Taskforce – a place where industry views can be heard regionally and nationally and to feed into plans for economic recovery following the Covid-19 pandemic. After consulting with our members, Bristol Media’s Chair Chris Thurling took their views to the table and over the coming weeks we’ll be taking the opportunity to keep you updated …
Getting valuable feedback from our members that we could present to The West of England Combined Authority ’s Regional Recovery Taskforce involved one to one discussions and a short survey that was sent out to members. We wanted to understand how lockdown affected businesses and to what scale? And, what are industry views on the government‘s interventions designed to help businesses survive? The questionnaire looked at a number of areas, from use of government support schemes, impacts on businesses and confidence looking forward. Here’s a short summary of our findings.
We had 79 responses; 80% were limited companies, 14% sole traders, the remaining respondents were split between partnerships and community interest companies. Turnover ranged from under £50,000 to over £5 million. Of these businesses most were micro business – 54%; the remaining 46% were small businesses employing six to 100 people.
So what had happened to these businesses during lockdown? We looked at turnover and unsurprisingly 75% have experienced a decline. However, more optimistically just over 20% reported a stable turnover, so their businesses had been able to continue at pre-Covid levels. For those businesses reporting a decrease, almost half reported a significant decline of over 50%.
We also asked businesses to give us an idea on what they thought would happen to their turnover going forward. Almost half thought they would experience more decline, and a quarter forecast turnover increase.
Over half of respondents have used the Job Retention Scheme, 17% the VAT deferral and 34% the HMRC “time to pay” scheme. Business Rates Holiday and Self Employed Business Support Scheme featured at a rate of 10% of respondents using them.
Gaining access to support measures has been good. One notable exception that came out of the comments was the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme which a few had found difficult to access.
With any scheme there are those that find they are not eligible or that support is very limited. In this survey two examples were repeatedly flagged up: those who had only recently started trading, and those whose income was not recognised as it was paid as dividends.
Grants are allocated based on profits over the past three years, so people who started working for themselves between April 2018 and March 2020 are unable to apply for financial help. In addition company directors found their pay not covered fully by the furlough scheme when pay is in part from dividends.
The other loophole has been those on maternity leave, these women are unable to return to self employed work due to Covid-19 but unable to claim for grants as, despite being on a low income currently, if their average over the past three years is higher than £50,000 applicants are not eligible for the SEISS grant.
Just over a third thought government guidance was not clear in relation to easing the lockdown with comments about information such as “ambiguous”, “inconsistent”, “flaky” and “confusing”. Those businesses already working remotely have experienced little interruption to work. However, for those businesses that rely on people coming together within our sector, e.g. events, film production, photography, work has come to a halt.
We asked about risks to their businesses with lockdown easing and had a host of comments including worries for the safety of staff, of a second spike of Covid-19, to how to cope if staff have to go on long term sick leave and how to survive with reduced staff capacity. Suppliers or customers going bust, staff trying to work and juggle childcare and home-schooling, economic uncertainty, and providing clear directives to staff when government advice is not clear were also cited as concerns.
When asked if the government should be doing more to help businesses like theirs, a third said yes, more help please! Comments ranged from very specific feedback on government schemes such as, “directors dividend pay to be recognised in the furlough scheme”, to more general comments such as “more help for self employed”, “relief on rent for empty workspaces”, “more provision for serviced office space”, and “a road map on how to move forward after lockdown”. Some businesses are dependent on servicing sectors which have been hit hard by the effects of Covid-19 such tourism and travel, so their recovery is dependent on the recovery of other sectors.
When asked about travelling to work there was lots of confusion about social distancing on public transport and wearing facemasks. And when offices are reopened the majority did not feel confident with their staff being able to use public transport to get to work. The main reason given was that their staff would not feel safe from Covid-19 on public transport. Employers are adapting work following the Covid-19 pandemic, the main changes are allowing vulnerable people to continue to work from home, having remote working as the norm and, for those that are in the workplace, undertaking social distancing.
Of those using the furlough scheme there was a wide range of staff being furloughed from 10% of staff in some businesses to over 75% in others. The scheme has not stopped redundancies completely as just under 10% of respondents have already made employees redundant due to the Covid-19 crisis. Unfortunately redundancies are expected to continue and be greater as over 20% of respondents anticipate redundancies when the furlough scheme ends.
We also asked what additional government support was needed to retain jobs and skills: there were comments on the national picture; getting the whole economy moving,having a plan, grants for apprenticeships, retraining women returners, having better childcare, more time for VAT payments, reduced business rates, more local authority loans, to avoid a no deal Brexit.
And there were comments specific to the sector such as upskilling in the creative and digital sector, technology training grants. So like many businesses in the UK, the picture is tough in the SW creative sector; particularly for those not eligible for support, those businesses servicing tourism and travel and businesses that rely on people coming together. There are some businesses who have been able to adapt and continue at pre-Covid levels and some levels of optimism to build on.
This research was passed on to the WECA Regional Recovery Taskforce through Bristol Media Chair, Chris Thurling. Your views will be used to influence plans for the SW creative sector’s recovery from the impact of COVID19.
If you want to continue to Have Your Say or join in the conversation in regional recovery get in touch with the team or chat to us at our regular virtual member lunches.
Bristol Creative Industries is the membership network that supports the region's creative sector to learn, grow and connect, driven by the common belief that we can achieve more collectively than alone.