Practical Guidance Note #1
Coronavirus: Managing the impact on your business – 13/03/20
Last week the government issued a 28-page policy paper providing guidance on the anticipated spread of coronavirus across the UK.
They stated that, at this stage, they are ‘uncertain of the impact of an outbreak on businesses. In a stretching scenario, it is possible that up to one-fifth of employees may be absent from work during peak weeks.’
Since then things have moved quickly, and the government is preparing to move to the delay phase in its response to contain the virus, as it looks increasingly likely that there’ll be widespread disruption that may have a knock-on effect on businesses.
13th March 2020
It makes sense for businesses to start thinking about how they might cope with this situation. If schools are closed, then this will create difficulties for families around managing childcare with some employees having to take time off. So-called ‘social distancing’ measures to contain the spread of the virus may involve encouraging people to work from home.
Homeworking is one potential solution but, of course, there are many businesses where this option simply doesn’t work. Businesses should start thinking about how they will function with reduced staffing levels.
As part of a review of your Business Continuity Plan, it may be worth stress-testing your company’s I.T. infrastructure in advance to check its ability to cope, should it be necessary for large numbers of people to work from home.
In terms of communicating with work colleagues then software like Zoom or Microsoft Teams offer remote conferencing services using Cloud computing.
There’s already anecdotal evidence of some businesses beginning to experience supply chain difficulties, and this will only get worse over the coming months as coronavirus continues to spread across national boundaries.
The worst-case scenario is shortage of supply and no goods to sell. So, it’s critical that businesses start to think about contingency planning to safeguard their supply chains wherever possible.
The government’s policy paper specifically addresses cash flow stating that ‘for businesses facing short-term cash flow issues (for example, as the result of subdued demand), an effective mitigation already exists in HMRC’s Time To Pay system. This is offered on a case-by-case basis if a firm or individual contacts HMRC about falling behind on their tax.’
Clearly talk of ‘subdued demand’ is worrying and business owners may need to work closely with their advisers to review their cash flow forecasting over the coming months. Shining a light on potential problems early on can make a critical difference in making key business decisions.
It’s also worth keeping the bank informed if cash flow becomes an issue for the business. There’s evidence that the high street banks are rolling out emergency loans to businesses that are showing signs of financial strain amid the coronavirus outbreak.
The chief executive of Barclays’ business banking division, Ian Rand said last week ‘Barclays is ready to help, whether that’s with managing cash flow or any other support, and we encourage any customer who needs guidance to call us or contact their relationship manager.’
Similarly, the other major banks are making statements on being there to help SMEs through any period of disruption. On Monday 9 March NatWest unveiled a £5bn coronavirus support package for small businesses.
It’s also understood that Wednesday’s Budget has been reshaped with Rishi Sunak expected to put in place funding to assist businesses, with particular focus on small firms employing fewer than 100 people. The Treasury is understood to be concerned that smaller firms will be especially vulnerable if large numbers of staff call in sick or are sent home to prevent the spread of the virus.
Ultimately, as business leaders, you get to choose how to think and behave around this crisis. The business landscape is likely to be challenging over the next few weeks and months. What will be critical is a measured, pragmatic response based on the facts rather than the media frenzy that’s fuelling certain behaviours.
So, clarity of thought combined with a focus on the things you can control will help you to navigate through these uncharted waters.
 Many business owners may not be aware that the TTP Arrangement allows for the debt to HMRC to be paid back in monthly instalments, typically over a period of up to 12 months.