‘Roadmap or not, I feel completely abandoned’

‘Boris Johnson is to set out a “steady as she goes” plan for easing England’s lockdown, with schools and outdoor activities the first in line for a return. However, a number of small business owners have slammed the Government’s response during the pandemic.

The Prime Minister will tell MPs that all pupils in all years in England can go back to the classroom from March 8, with outdoor after-school sports and activities allowed to restart as well.

Socialising in parks and public spaces with one other person will also be permitted in a fortnight, when the rules are relaxed, to allow people to sit down for a drink or picnic.

A further easing of restrictions will take place on March 29 when the school Easter holidays begin – with larger groups allowed to gather in parks and gardens.

The moves form the first step in a four-part plan, which will not be completed until the summer – with around five weeks between stages expected to assess the impact on the spread of the virus and prepare businesses for the next move.

By the Easter holidays the “rule of six” will return, along with new measures allowing two households totalling more than six people to meet – giving greater flexibility for families and friends.

Outdoor sports facilities such as tennis and basketball courts are also set to reopen, and organised adult and children’s sport, including grassroots football, can return from March 29.

Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said people would also be able to travel to see friends and family from another household from March 29, “as long as it’s outdoors, and it is two families, or the rule of six”.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told LBC Radio: “Everybody – and I think the Prime Minister is in this place now – wants this to be the last lockdown. So come out cautiously, carefully – that’s the language he is using, so I’m looking for that this afternoon.”

Business response

Beverley Wakefield, co-founder of Derby-based Vibrant Accountancy: “It’s great the Government is announcing a roadmap out of the pandemic, but I fear the Treasury may have burnt its bridges with a huge number of small businesses that it will rely on to reignite the economy. While the pandemic will force more businesses to start, for the simple reason that fewer people are in jobs, I’m concerned about the Budget update and whether small business owners will be penalised in new tax measures. After all, the Government has made it crystal clear it does not like how small business owners remunerate themselves. Let’s hope this isn’t the case given that small business owners are the lifeblood of our country.”

Trudy Simmons, founder of London-basedThe Daisy Chain Group: “The road out of lockdown will be strewn with the wreckage of many small businesses that have received zero support from the Government. And while many people could enter self-employment due to the uncertain jobs market, the lack of support for small company limited directors over the past year could discourage people from setting up companies. Clearly, this could have ramifications for the economy as companies are able to scale up in a way sole traders cannot.”

Maddy Alexander-Grout, founder of the Southampton-based small business national discount scheme, MyVIPCard: “The UK has always been an entrepreneurial country but the lack of support for so many small businesses over the past twelve months could become a headache for the Prime Minister in the short-term because so many would-be entrepreneurs have become disincentivised. Government support has been very sporadic for small businesses and those trading less than one year have not received anything. As a result, I think a lot of people will be scared to take the plunge into self-employment in the months ahead, and certainly until the market is a bit more stable. 

Denise Yeats, director of London-based Denise Yeats Creative Event Production: “The Government roadmap should take into account the mass disillusionment of so many small businesses. To say I feel hugely let down by this Government would be an understatement. I feel continually stressed, anxious and fearful of the future, and can only see my hard earned business disappear.”

Lynsey Pollard, founder of London-based kids’ books provider, Little Box of Books: “In economic terms, I’m optimistic about our planned exit from the pandemic as so many newly launched companies have just been through the most intense business boot camp ever. To run a business in any circumstance, for any length of time, you need resilience, courage and creativity — and emergency schooling, pivoting, stock problems, delivery problems and social distancing have tested all of these to the limit. If we can repeatedly think of solutions during a global pandemic, we can take on the world, at least after some sleep and a few weekends of childcare.”

Keisha Shah, founder of the Milton Keynes-based educational resources provider, Teddo Play: “Although the road out of the pandemic is likely to be bumpy, I feel positive about the future because of the way e-commerce platforms like Shopify, Amazon, Etsy and others have helped companies to thrive, enabling customers and businesses to interact with each other pandemic or no pandemic, lockdown or no lockdown. The wheels of the economy have continued to spin thanks to the internet, e-commerce, fintech and the cloud.”

Sarah Gatford, director of Derby-based Sarah Gatford Limited: “No doubt the Government roadmap will rely on small businesses, the backbone of this country, driving the economy forward. And yet so many of us have been sidelined by an incompetent and arrogant Government that couldn’t care less about small business. My resilience has been stretched to its limits just to keep my head above water and taking on debt in the form of a Bounce Back Loan is not support.”

Peter Marples, founder of the Leicestershire-based consulting business, Aquifer Solutions: “With the roadmap out of lockdown, opportunity dawns. For many, the risk of setting up a business reduces as individuals are in less secure employment, which creates opportunities for change.”

Vicki Lovegrove, founder of Staffordshire-based Seventy Three Design: “Roadmap or not, I feel completely abandoned. I’ve had my micro business for seventeen years, have always paid my tax on time and kept my accounts up to date. Yet as a company director I have been lumped in a group and essentially deemed a fraud risk by the Treasury and therefore only been given a loan. I am disgusted by our treatment.”

Related: School reopening: Government has done ‘precious little’ to prepare for safe return

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