By Kirsty McManus, National Director, Institute of Directors, Northern Ireland
It seems with every passing day currently, there is yet another ‘unprecedented’ development as our world keeps changing in a bid to cope with all that the coronavirus pandemic can throw at us.
The most important message is that we will get through this but it will take a monumental joint effort, both in terms of business leaders coming together and partnering with politicians and government to ensure adequate measures are in place to safeguard the economy during what will undoubtedly be its most testing period since the financial crisis.
The enormity of the government’s commitment announced on Friday to subsidise the salaries of workers at risk of redundancy by up to 80% should not be underestimated.
Hundreds of thousands of jobs across the UK and here in Northern Ireland that otherwise would have been lost could now be saved as a result.
That is massive and the Chancellor’s measure came about after a united push by business organisations, yes including the IoD but many others, asking politicians to step up to the plate and help cash-strapped businesses pay wages.
Combined with measures to defer VAT payments and increase Universal Credit, this is major boost in confidence to the business community and to consumers.
However, there is so much more that needs to be done to carry us through the next number of weeks.
First of all is detail and as much of it as possible from HMRC and the British Business Bank particularly around the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme and other measures, as business owners try to work out what is of relevance to them and how they can avail of help in as timely a manner as possible.
The acid test for all policies brought forward by government will be in how fast they reach businesses.
And for businesses, cash continues to be king. We need to see prompt payments being made by public bodies, if not immediately then certainly within 15 days to give companies the cashflow they need to operate as close to normal as possible.
For private companies too, if you can afford to pay suppliers quickly – do so.
It is crucial also that the self-employed, the very innovators that drive this economy, are not forgotten.
While steps to ease the tax burden will provide relief, there are many entrepreneurial people out there who had good businesses last month, but for whom demand has now completely disappeared.
There are 5 million self-employed people in the United Kingdom, providing services to business and consumers across the country, and many that are at the early stages of a journey that could see them lead some of the most successful companies of the future – provided they get help now.
We know there are still many other areas of concern, including commercial mortgages, rent, late payments, and many more.
What I want to say to everyone, company owners, business leaders, directors – whether you are a member of the IoD or not – you are most definitely not alone.
We are all in this fight against coronavirus together and as an organisation, we are providing a range of services to help you as you continue to grapple to keep your business together of the coming weeks and months.
The recently launched IoD Coronavirus Hub on our website is designed to provide you with access to the latest advice, information and resources you need to support your business.
Alongside our partners in other representative organisations, through the Business Alliance with the Confederation of British Industry Northern Ireland, the Centre for Competitiveness, and the Northern Ireland Chamber, more than ever, we are providing a voice for local businesses. Use it.
We are in daily contact with policy makers and those with influence in government, shaping the very solutions that will help see our businesses through this time of crisis.
We are so much stronger when we come together so please do get in touch, let us know what issues you are facing and what you want to see from government and others to help.
Above all, keep safe and follow government guidance on how to stem the spread of COVID-19 as we unite to reduce the risk of the coronavirus to lives and livelihoods.