A survey by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has found that 62% of businesses have only enough cash to keep operating for the next three months, while 18% said they had sufficient capital to cover their outlay for only a month. The survey found that companies were planning to put large numbers of workers on furlough after the Government guaranteed that the taxpayer would pay 80% of staff salaries up to £2,500 a month.

The results from the BCC first Coronavirus Business Impact Tracker paints a concerning, picture for business communities affected by Coronavirus. The new tracker will serve as a barometer of business’ response to the government’s measures and changes to business’ working practices over the next few months. It will also track how quickly new government interventions, introduced to deal with the real-world impact of this crisis, are getting to the businesses at the front line.

The first set of polling included responses from over 600 businesses. It revealed that a majority of firms reported a significant decrease in their revenue from both the UK and overseas.

Of most concern is the impact on business’s cash flow, an important indicator of overall economic health. 18 per cent reported less than a month’s worth of cash in reserve, while 44 per cent reported only 1 to 3 months’ worth of cash in reserve. Only 6 per cent of respondents reported over 12 months’ worth of cash in reserve.

Following the government’s pledge to cover 80 per cent of a furloughed employee’s salary up to £2,500 a month, 32 per cent of respondents said that they were planning to furlough between 75 to 100 per cent of their workforce over the next week. More than a quarter of firms (26 per cent) were not due to use the scheme in the next week.

A majority of businesses have embraced the changes in working culture, with two thirds of respondents (66 per cent) using remote working and half (50 per cent) using videoconferencing.

However, 18 per cent of businesses had closed operations temporarily and, although no respondents had yet closed business operations permanently, both figures are expected to rise over the coming weeks and months.

Encouragingly, most businesses reported awareness of the government’s recent support schemes to help mitigate the impact of coronavirus.

  • 61 per cent of firms knew details of the business rates holiday for the retail, hospitality and leisure sector
  • 59 per cent of firms knew details of the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme
  • 57 per cent of firms knew details of the Statutory Sick Pay refund

The percentage of firms actively in receipt of this support was low but this is expected to rise in the coming weeks following the government’s official launch of the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme and Job Retention Scheme on Monday 23 March.

Responding to the tracker results, BCC Director General Dr Adam Marshall said “The Coronavirus pandemic has taken a heavy toll on business and economic activity across the UK.”

“While businesses have welcomed the unprecedented size and scope of the government support packages, our findings highlight the urgent need for that support to reach businesses on the ground as soon as possible. The majority of firms cannot wait weeks or months for help to arrive.”

“There’s no escaping the scale of the challenge UK businesses are facing, yet many are already finding ways to contribute to the national effort to tackle coronavirus. Chambers and their members are working together to play their part, including gathering unused PPE equipment from local businesses and delivering them to the NHS. I’ve no doubt we will see further examples of resilience and innovation – the hallmarks of the UK business community – in the coming weeks and months.”