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Welsh Businesses Worried About Returning to Work Too Soon

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Businesses in Wales would welcome a phased return to work but are concerned about their employees’ welfare, the CEO of the South Wales Chamber of Commerce Heather Myers has said.

Speaking in the latest Wales Business Review hosted by former First Minister Carwyn Jones, Heather said:

“What they want to do is keep their employees safe, get them back to work but in a way that means they can social distance, or have the right level of equipment and testing in place before they do that.”

The South Wales Chamber has been advising its members from the beginning of the crisis on how they can access funding support from government and other agencies. Heather said that while most of the key areas had been addressed, there were still some gaps and the Chambers were in conversation with policy makers about filling those.

Heather said that Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s recent statement about extending the furlough support scheme had raised a number of issues of concern for businesses.

She added:

“One is that it’s going to be a longer haul than people originally thought, which is giving [rise to] some questions around how long is this going to take; and the fact that the measures are so deep for so long really does represent the depth of the crisis that we’re potentially facing.

“So the questions I’m hearing at the moment are how long is it going to take, will I still get funding throughout that, and what can I do as a business to responsibly get back to work?”

Heather stressed the importance of clear messages from government about what is happening and how people should behave.

She said:

“From the work that I’ve seen that the Welsh Government are doing, clear communication is really important, and it’s really important for members of the public to understand what’s going on with workplaces, so they don’t judge things that are being done perfectly reasonably in a negative way.

“While it is potentially frustrating not to have a timetable, it’s actually not helpful to have one at the moment either, because as soon as you set something people start behaving in ways that potentially don’t help us with the health crisis, which has to come first.”

Mark Hindmarsh, Managing Partner of Tavira Growth Partners, said there was a very high level of uncertainty among businesses about their prospects for the next few months.

He said:

“The reality is the failure rate for start-ups is extremely high in normal times. The numbers are that 70% of businesses that start in normal circumstances won’t be around in three years’ anyway, [and] those numbers are likely to increase significantly.

“The reality is that those start-ups that are trying to raise capital now are unlikely to be able to do so, unless they’re already in advanced discussions with investors, and are probably going to raise that money on lower valuations.

“Those that don’t have at least 4-6 months cash runway are unfortunately looking down the barrel of a gun and may not come out of this. Those that have a good advisory board will fare better than others, because experience is immensely valuable at this time. Those of us who have ridden similar storms can help them through this and put certain measures in place to try to ride it out.”

Wales Business Review is available every Friday