‘We’re just keen to get back working’: Eastbourne business owners prepare for the changes to come
Businesses in Eastbourne have welcomed the budget news and are eager to open up again from next month.
Last week Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the new budget plans which included the furlough scheme being extended to September and various grants paid out to businesses forced to close during the pandemic.
The furlough extension allows for businesses to get back to normal, while also allowing for ‘wiggle room’ around dates set out in the road map out of lockdown. Employers will have to contribute 10 per cent towards furlough in July and 20 per cent in August, before the scheme ends in September.
This comes after Boris Johnson revealed the road map out of lockdown, starting with schools going back last week and non-essential shops and businesses opening up again from April 12.
Indoor hospitality can resume on May 17.
The budget also set aside £5 billion in restart grants for shops and businesses forced to close, lower VAT rates for hospitality firms until September and £400 million is set aside to help arts venues like museums and theatres.
£6,000 will also be paid to non-essential outlets due to reopen in April and £18,000 will go to gyms/personal care providers and other hospitality and leisure businesses.
Businesses in Eastbourne have welcomed the furlough extension and are preparing to open again in the next month.
Frenchies Homeware & Gifts owner Julianne French said, “The difficulties I’ve had as a small independent business – whilst the grant and furlough schemes have helped its not the same as being open for business financially.
“I’m unable to compete with big online delivery sales and services such as Amazon, who sell everything and similar items to myself and the online side of the business is not as successful for me even though I’ve tried consistently pumping on social media and offering free local delivery.”
Julianne said lockdowns have been a big struggle and the level of support for local businesses has changed through each one.
She said, “I do hope this changes for us when and if we do get to open back up in April and have the support we need to continue to keep our business open.”
Lucy Hancock, the owner for The Art House cafe, said, “We are extremely grateful to the governments generous financial support to the hospitality industry which I understand that the UK has received the most financial support internationally.
“The flexible furlough system has enabled us to keep all of our staff employed whilst reducing the hours we are open to try and minimise any losses.
“We are still awaiting details of reopening support available to us as when we reopen on April 12 as we only have four seats outside so clearly need further financial help to continue to trade under these restrictions.
“Even on May 17 when inside seating is able to reopen there are still restrictions on only two households meeting inside.
“It’s not until the end of June restrictions will be fully lifted and we will be able to start to trade as usual.
“That will be 15 months of restrictions, of which nine months we’ve had enforced closure of no one seated inside our cafe.
“Thankfully we’ve had amazing customer support when we’ve been able to open with restrictions and just hope that their goodwill extends through this year to keep us afloat.”
Vicky Kotsiou, who owns Gr/eat restaurant, said, “Furlough has been a huge help and we’re thrilled it has been extended.
“Flexible furlough will specifically ensure a smooth transition into reopening until full consumer confidence is established.
“It is disappointing though that there’s no further mention of the furlough retention bonus that would help offset some of the incurred costs and reward businesses that supported the staff.
“The VAT reduction to five per cent until September is of course welcome but we feel it should have been extended until March 2021.
“Perhaps now is the right time to initiate a greater discussion on potential VAT reduction for fresh food businesses.
“Grants have proven to be an integral support, but using the business rates to allocate these grants is unfair. Turnover should have been used instead
“We do not have the data to comment on the road map but we need to emphasise how important it will be for all businesses to avoid closing down again.
“We’d all prefer to push back reopening if that would mean we wouldn’t need to backtrack and close again two weeks or a month later.”
Drusillas Park is getting ready to open its doors next month but managing director Laurence Smith feels like dates could be brought forward.
Laurence said, “Furlough has been a lifeline but because we’re a zoo we can’t furlough everyone because animals still need to be fed so that’s been a real blow.
“We received a couple of small grants, but they hardly covered the cost of animal food so we’ve had to take out a huge loan.
“There’s a strong argument to say we could bring the dates forward. It’s come down dramatically and the way vaccines are being bashed out I think they should bring it all forward but I don’t think they will.
“Every day at this time of year makes a huge difference. It’s money going out but nothing coming in.
“We’re survive it though. We’re just keen to get back working.”