South Tyneside businesses say the latest Covid lockdown makes it ‘impossible to plan’ ahead
Chancellor Rishi Sunak confirmed earlier this month that the Government’s furlough scheme, under which 80% of monthly wages up to £2,500 is covered by the Treasury, will run until March next year as a result of the second lockdown period.
Although a welcome announcement for struggling high street firms, business owners in South Tyneside nevertheless say it is ‘impossible to plan’ ahead of the festive season.
They also believe the climate of ongoing uncertainty created by the Covid-19 pandemic – including doubts over the duration of the second national lockdown period and what could come afterwards – has had a markedly detrimental impact on trade.
George Simpson, owner of Conway’s bike shop in South Shields and Jarrow’s Override Skate Park, is again overseeing businesses undergoing two separate lockdown experiences.
As was the case during the first national lockdown, bike shops are considered an ‘essential service’ and therefore have not faced enforced closure.
The skate park, however, has been ordered to shut its doors again temporarily.
"We just have no idea how long this thing is going to go on for at the moment,” Mr Simpson said.
“This makes it impossible to plan. And, even if we are still open at the bike shop, we have lots of overheads to think about.
"As for the skate park, the Government grants probably cover the rent for the premises – but that’s about it. So all we can do over the next few weeks is wait and see.”
Carl Mowatt, manager at the Lakeside Inn, just off Leam Lane, said Number 10’s moves had not completely derailed the venues’s plans for December and believes the Government will deliver a ‘continuity’ package.
He said: "It’s a mixed bag, really.
"We’re still putting on events like our Christmas Fair and we’re taking bookings throughout the month. So we’re optimistic and upbeat about getting back to normal as soon as we possibly can.
"To be honest, a reboot of the Eat Out to Help Out Scheme in January would be really great news for us as – even in pre-Covid times – those early months of the year are usually very quiet ones.”
South Shields MP, Emma Lewell-Buck, has argued that any economic support package should be indexed to factor in South Tyneside’s economic disparities in comparison to other parts of the country.
“There are loads of people who are just falling through the gaps of the Government’s support schemes,” she told The Gazette.
Aside from the furlough announcement, several Number 10 loans have also been extended, along with the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme.
She added: "Essentially, if we’d shut down earlier, this would not be lasting a month or even longer perhaps now. So the impacts wouldn’t have been as considerable as they could be.”