Coronavirus: One in 10 small businesses say they can't reopen safely

Oscar Williams-Grut
Senior City Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
Businesses remain closed near Trafalgar Square in London, England.(Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

In the UK 10% of small businesses are unable to reopen at all under the government’s new pandemic safety guidelines.

The British Chamber of Commerce (BCC) said on Wednesday that a survey of over 600 of its members found one in 10 said they would be unable to reopen safely.

It comes after the UK government last week issued new guidance for businesses about reopening as the COVID-19 lockdown begins to be eased. New rules include social distancing in workplaces and the wearing of face masks in enclosed spaces, such as offices and shops.

The BCC found that just 37% of its members could restart operations at full capacity under the new guidelines; 45% said they could partially restart.

Adam Marshall, director general of the BCC, said: “Companies at all levels of readiness to restart, of all sizes, and in every part of the UK will need sustained government support as they navigate the ‘new normal’ with reduced demand and restrictions still in place. 

“Many support schemes will need to be adapted and updated, but must not be withdrawn prematurely.”

Darren Jones, chair of parliament’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee, wrote to business secretary Alok Sharma on Tuesday (19 May) asking what the government was doing to help firms trying to reopen.

“Many businesses are struggling to buy the right protective kit to make their workplaces COVID-19 secure,” Labour MP Jones said in a statement. “Immediate action is needed from government to help small-and-medium sized businesses, in particular, to access the protection kit they need to get their businesses moving.

“I hope the government will come forward with more detail on what they are doing to help businesses ensure their workplaces are COVID-19 secure and the action they are taking to help shops and other high-street business operate safely and restore consumer confidence.”

Prime minister Boris Johnson last week urged those who can’t work from home to begin to return to work. Housing minister Robert Jenrick said last week it was “essential that we cautiously reopen parts of the economy where it’s safe to do so.” It comes as unemployment claims spike and economic growth dives as a result of the lockdown, introduced in late March.