Business News Wales Section Editor
As businesses across Wales adjust to a new way of working, experts are advising them to prepare for any reintroduction of Covid-19 restrictions.
Welsh Government has warned that cases of Covid-19 are likely to increase in the autumn and winter, as people spend more time indoors.
Their Coronavirus control plan for Wales outlines how, if an outbreak is confirmed in a specific area, businesses could be told to close.
Business owners should start thinking now about the steps they can take to prepare themselves for such a possibility, said Nick Soret, head of consultancy technical development at advisory service Mentor.
Businesses such as hospitality firms or non-essential retailers will be able to re-furlough employees if they are subject to a local lockdown, he said.
“The UK Government’s furlough scheme has changed, which means you no longer have to do it for a minimum of three weeks – so if a local lockdown is for, say, two weeks, employers can put people on furlough and bring them back when it ends,” he explains.
“But employers should note that the furlough scheme will become less generous in the weeks ahead: in September the Government element of the scheme reduces to 70% of pay, and then to 60% in October.”
This means that, under the new rules, a business that is subject to a local lockdown in October will be required to make up a higher percentage of furloughed employees’ pay.
“So it makes sense to think now about what your approach would be if your area was subject to a local lockdown at a time when the furlough scheme was less generous.”
Meanwhile, owners of essential businesses that will be permitted to remain open during a local lockdown should consider introducing additional health and safety measures to keep their staff and customers safe during a period when infection levels remain high.
“It certainly could make sense for employers to take extra precautions (in that situation); for example, they could encourage customers and staff to wear face masks,” says Soret.
Local lockdowns already imposed in areas of England and Scotland have shown that they can happen swiftly and with very little warning.
Where possible, business owners should remain informed about the number of coronavirus cases in their area so they are aware of any flare-ups and the subsequent likelihood of a local lockdown. This will give them time to put any necessary remote-working practices in place or re-furlough staff who will be unable to work if the business is forced to close for the length of the lockdown.
Erica Wolfe-Murray, author of business book Simple Tips, Smart Ideas, said:
“Keep an eye on ‘R’-rate [infection rate] statistics in your area to be ahead of the game. The coronavirus app developed by King’s College London together with health science company Zoe now has close to 4m users and features infection hotspots on its website.
“You can both add data and use the data to keep an eye on your area. This is the largest public science project anywhere in the world.”
The app is available on IOS and Android .
Public Health Wales’s dashboard, including data on the number of cases in different local authority areas, can be found here .
Businesses that are forced to close their doors as a result of a local lockdown will also face the challenge of keeping revenues coming in. Michael Waters, business expert and author of The Power Of Surge, says owners should consider how successful firms responded to the original lockdown imposed in March.
“That’s likely to bring to mind the numerous successful pivotal surges that emerged in the coronavirus response, when businesses turned overnight from making one thing – drinks or clothes, say – to making another, such as sanitisers or masks,” he explains.
“Drawing on the experience of the March lockdown, ask your team what you could do better, such as additional ways to generate digital revenues and increase reach – and put them in place now.
“Create a step-by-step plan that can be quickly implemented when your area lockdown is announced. This should include roles and responsibilities, communicating to suppliers, staff and customers, and shifting to digital-only mode.”
“Finally, a key element of any post-local lockdown plan should be on surge readiness and what will enable the firm to surge ahead as soon as the lockdown is lifted. Questions such as: ‘Can we do more with less? Is this the time to consider automation? Are there conversion possibilities here? Are there strategic alliances to explore while we’ve got the chance?’ could be worth addressing.”
The UK Government could also have a role to play in offering additional support to businesses affected by local lockdowns. Soret says that the UK Government will need to think about whether the furlough scheme should be extended past October if lockdowns are imposed later in the year or in 2021, while Wolfe-Murray adds:
“HMRC could look to offer a VAT reduction for those businesses operating in lockdown areas. They know where you are, so this could be an easy option, allowing you to retain a bigger slice of the revenue you are generating.”
NatWest Mentor offers expert business advice on employment law and HR, health and safety, and environmental management.
A version of this article first ran on the NatWest Business Hub.