Our business community is still very much trying to recover from the impact of Storms Ciara and Dennis so the Coronavirus and the implications obviously compound what is already a very difficult situation for us. This is the greatest challenge we have faced since the Boxing Day floods 2015 and due to lots of uncertain factors is a challenge greater than the lean first 6-8 months of 2016 when businesses were stitching themselves back together and reopening.
Initially the uncertainty at the beginning of the week following Johnson’s refusal to formally enforce closure and insist on isolation felt like a deliberately evasive tactic which left the hospitality/tourism industry and other small independent businesses hung out to dry and feeling isolated for very different reasons. However, after yesterday’s developments there are small glimmers of hope and reassurance for short term help via small grants, loans and business rate holidays. This will possibly impact on local government though as it was unclear what support they would get.
Two of our Committee members work for Ryburne Insurance Brokers and have given us valuable information to pass on. The position varies with insurers and different wordings, so you need to speak to your advisors and read the policy wording under the Business Interruption section.
There is typically on retail and restaurant package policies an extension for Compulsory Closure and/or Denial of Access. You need to check this wording carefully because all insurers and wordings differ, Many effectively says that it will cover loss of revenue – up to a fixed limit – for compulsory closure by a public body following outbreak of specified diseases. It then (in most cases) goes on to specify the diseases. SO – even if the govt forced compulsory closure it would not necessarily make the policy valid because CV is not specified. Of course CV is not on the list because it is new – but the ones on the list are all diseases that the insurers know about, the scientists can manage and have data on and thus insurers can underwrite. So either the government forces insurers to retrospectively add CV to their policy – or the government agrees to support all businesses regardless like they do in France. If they take the first option – that will still leave thousands of self employed (but non premises based business) without any support – as they would not have that type of policy with the disease extension anyway. This position may be under review as UK Gov and Insurers are supposed to be in discussions but there is no detail yet. We are now recommending policyholders to submit claims direct to insurers and ask insurers for a written or email response. We feel this will add pressure to make the changes needed.
We, as a Business Forum Committee, are trying to pass on relevant business related information as we get it via our social media feeds, our Community not-for-profit website hebdenbridge.org and by sending regular email newsletters to those HX7 businesses on our database.
We are posting positive news from businesses coming up with new and innovative ways to trade. On a creative level we are encouraging them to think outside the box regarding marketing, even if this just helps them to remain sane more than anything else! We have suggested little online videos championing their businesses and many have started to do this and have sees engagement and positive results, including online sales when they are only a bricks and mortar shop.
This is a situation far worse than early 2016 as during that time we knew what we were faced with. As a town we had severely flooded with almost all businesses affected. We knew what had to be done and how to do it as we had insurance help, local Council grant help and the spirit of our great community to keep us going. We all mucked in and made the best of the situation; opening at different times throughout the year but culminating in our Alternative Christmas Day event at the end of June 2016. There was a lot of support for the town from social media posts that brought most regular visitors back to shop, eat and drink and also found us new customers discovering the delights of Hebden Bridge.
Now we are in a very different situation that will not just have short term impact but long impact too as some of our much loved small independent businesses may not survive and remain on our high street when all this madness has gone! Most businesses are putting measures in to place to manage damage limitation. On a practical level we are advising them to check their insurance policies, talk to their landlords about a rent holiday, contact HMRC about SSP and more time to pay any due tax and to also contact their banks about possible finance options.
We are also fiercely opposed to the Hebden Bridge Flood Alleviation and the Corridor Improvement Programme works both due to start in Autumn this year. Perhaps monies tied up with these could be diverted to business support and alternative creative thinking for Hebden Bridge and Mytholmroyd this year to ensure that the visitor economy here remains strong and bouyant.