Cause for optimism for Warwickshire small firms despite unlocking delay

The delay to the planned opening up of all restrictions on June 21st is unwelcome, of course, but Lee Osborne, Development Manager, Warwickshire & Coventry Federation of Small Businesses, argues that despite this latest hurdle along the roadmap there is much to be positive about for many small firms.

The sunny weather in the past few weeks, coupled with some easing of lockdown restrictions, may have felt like life getting back to normal. But we must take a moment to remember that some businesses, ones that have already been closed for the longest period, are now facing the news that they must go another month with no income.

With the Prime Minister’s confirmation of a delay to the final stage of the unlocking roadmap, this will continue to be a difficult period for many Warwickshire small firms. These hard-hit sectors, which include nightclubs, festivals and travel businesses, and their supply chains that continue to carry this burden need urgent, ambitious and targeted support.They will be bitterly disappointed at facing another month of restrictions on their trade, and we will be working hard to support them throughout this time.

But looking towards brighter skies, it seems that despite this latest hurdle along the roadmap, there is much to be positive about for other small firms. While the delay to moving to stage four of the lockdown will impact on many Warwickshire businesses that cannot yet operate at full capacity, there is some good news in that the 30-person cap on weddings will lift. This means this sector, which has felt the punishing effects of Covid for a long time can get back on its feet in some way. Hotels, venues, caterers, bridal shops and photographers – as well as many couples – across Warwickshire will be positive that weddings can return on a larger, if not yet unrestricted, scale.

Also, as the year has progressed, we are seeing other upbeat signs. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) latest confidence survey for Q1 this year showed upticks in crucial business areas.

The FSB survey revealed that confidence levels are at their highest reading since autumn 2014 and the West Midland’s confidence figure stands significantly higher than the UK average. Almost a third of small firms (29%) across the region had increased revenues in the first three months of the year and more than half (54%) expected revenues to increase over the next quarter. It was also encouraging to see that two thirds of respondents aspired to grow their firms over the 12 months.

These surging levels of optimism and positive developments in crucial business areas show that small firms across the area are feeling confident about their futures. The certainty provided by the Government road map (up until this last stage at least) and strong roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccine were likely to be the root cause and it is heartening to see small firms report that business confidence is now in positive territory for the first time since before the pandemic began.

It has been fantastic seeing our shops, hairdressers, hospitality businesses and gyms getting back to what they do best all over Warwickshire with renewed confidence. Further good news has come in the form of industry data and dashboard figures showing buoyant retail sales in May, with pent up demand among lockdown consumers fuelling a sharp rise in spending.

With Coventry starting its year as UK City of Culture and attracting the national media spotlight, we can also expect more people to visit the region to make the most of what this exciting opportunity offers – from the Turner Prize to live music and events. This will be a major boost to our leisure hospitality and tourism businesses and for the region as a whole as we look to recover and see strong growth for local businesses.

Throughout this crisis, FSB has made it clear in our talks with Government and local stakeholders that support must be proportionate to the restrictions in place. It has been positive to see business support come forward and, through the efforts of local authorities and Warwickshire County Council, the measures have been critical to saving thousands of businesses and jobs and enabling small firms to purchase equipment and advice to help their business to grow.

Small businesses remain the backbone of the economy; each one a pillar of its local community. With the Government aid so far ensuring that many of these businesses have been able to either continue trading or pick up where they left off after the crisis, it’s more important than ever that we support our small businesses in any way we can, as they look to play their part in getting the local economy across Warwickshire back up and running.

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