As we emerge from the latest chapter of the new normal the news has been awash with the number of people having been pinged. We have had warnings of supermarket shortages and potential chaos on transport with last minute cancellations and whole line closures. We have been requested not to delete the NHS Covid App and not to stockpile. We have been asked to respect people’s choices regarding mask wearing and social distancing, yet that could prove to be an increasingly significant issue for businesses in terms of how they manage this latest chapter of the new normal.
As the furlough scheme starts to wind down with employers contributing 10% from Tuesday July 1 2021, increasing to 20% on Sunday August 1 2021 and ending altogether on Thursday September 30 2021, many businesses and individuals face difficult months ahead. The restriction on the presentation of winding up petitions is also set to end on Thursday 30 September 2021, unless they are extended, again. They also face difficult choices about how and if they lift or maintain what were previously mandated restrictions (on mask wearing, social distancing and limiting numbers) when no longer legally required.
Financial distress in businesses is already obvious, with empty units not being filled, many shops and hospitality venues seemingly devoid of customers, and employers being uncertain as to their ability to maintain staffing levels during the current pingdemic.
Faced with those choices, do businesses maintain restrictions so that their staff and customers feel and remain as safe as possible, accepting that continuing to limit footfall in their premises may and probably will slow their own business’s recovery? Do they relax or abandon altogether the old rules? Will this cause increases of infection amongst their staff and customers? Will staff feel comfortable working in such businesses? Will customers be deterred from patronising a business which seems to have taken such a stance? At least one restaurant is advertising mask and social distancing Wednesdays.
These are stark choices businesses face. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reports that nearly two-thirds (64%) of adults in Great Britain said they still plan to cover their faces in shops, following the lifting of most coronavirus legal restrictions in England from Monday July 19 2021. It goes on to report that the same percentage plan to wear masks on public transport, while 60% plan to avoid crowded places.
Many businesses have been able to survive the worst of the pandemic. These challenges to re-establish financial viability and sustainability moving forward could prove the most arduous aspects yet of this pandemic for them.
In planning for the future, owners and managers have to plan for their post ‘Freedom Day’ strategy, now, if they want to survive. Few businesses will be able to go back to their pre-March 2020 lockdown practices anytime soon if they want to survive, despite the government’s hopes of what ‘Freedom Day’ would bring. Staff and customers are still likely to be wary of the virus and its transmission, as well as the various Government u-turns and moving of the goal posts, including towards vaccine passports for nightclubs and other large events.
As government support winds down, those funding businesses will want to see an effective and well-thought out strategy for maximising revenue and footfall whilst continuing to acknowledge and address these concerns. Some businesses will genuinely struggle to achieve that however much planning they do and will need to seek professional restructuring or insolvency advice as soon as practicably possible. Others will survive and prosper facing these challenges head on and adapting in ways they may never have considered before. As the old saying goes, fail to prepare, prepare to fail.