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Coronavirus lockdown impacts small business in Britain
April 4, 2020 | 5:28 PM
by DW
Photo: DW
 
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Under normal circumstances, Philippa Cunningham can be seen darting around the central English city of Derby as she flits between plumbing jobs. She's easy to spot because her van is bright pink with "Pink Plumbing" plastered on the side. However, in the past few weeks that sight has become less frequent.

"People are really, really afraid to have you in their house," Philippa says, explaining why so many customers have postponed work. "I've not lost the work, but it's not there until all this madness is finally over."

The madness she's talking about is the coronavirus outbreak, which has resulted in Brits being advised to keep contact with others to a minimum.

It's not just Philippa's customers who are trying to keep their distance; many tradespeople she'd normally collaborate with are also isolating themselves. "There's no point in me starting a bathroom if I can't finish it!" she points out.



A promise of help

The UK government has assured self-employed British workers that help is on the way. In late March, it announced a scheme to pay many of them 80% of their average monthly earnings, up to a limit of 2,500 pounds (€2,800, $3,036).



The plan is expected to cost the UK Treasury around 3 billion pounds per month and should help around 3.8 million self-employed workers. However, they've been told not to expect the money until June.

For Philippa Cunningham, that money is too far off to be reassuring: "I've got three months to try and keep myself afloat. I've still got all my insurances and mortgage to pay."

The sense among Britain's self-employed of being put on hold was made worse by the fact the government's announcement came almost a week after measures to protect other workers were set out. "I think we were forgotten about," Philippa says. The government tried to explain the delay, saying the system had been particularly difficult to design.

Money on the way

Peter Sheehy's business is benefiting from a government programme that will see cash grants go to firms in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors in England. He's hoping to have that money in a matter of days.

The UK government has also introduced the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS), through which small and medium-sized companies are supposed to get easy access to emergency finance. Under the arrangement, the government will pay the interest for the first year and guarantee 80% of the loan amount to lenders.

However, there was a stark warning this week that CBILS would not be enough to rescue smaller firms. The advisory group The Corporate Finance Network published research suggesting 18% of SMEs will not be able to survive the next four weeks.

Uncertain times

Months of struggle lie ahead for many of Britain's smallest operators. For charismatic "Pink Plumber" Philippa Cunningham, staying optimistic is key to survival.

"I am going to remain upbeat. Speak to me in six months and I will still be upbeat whatever is happening."



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