by Stephen Fitzsimons www.warringtonandco.com
WHEN we were first instructed to work from home back in March, not many people would have predicted still being here as the spring turns into summer.
Yet home is now the office for many, joining Skype and Zoom calls with dishevelled hair, expanding waistlines and Netflix overdoses. I could trivialise the challenges of being cooped up with my wife and three boys, however it is of course very serious for a lot of people. Social isolation is a real threat to mental health so great to see initiatives out there like Offload from the Wolves Foundation. Elsewhere, business owners have been kept awake at night worrying about how they can keep their companies going so there is so no joy to be had from this extended Easter “holiday”.
It remains really challenging out there, with unemployment more than doubling to 4.6% and further stores closures from Oasis and Shearings. However, the recovery process has begun and the team is involved in plans to carefully open up the town centre.
A £50m Reopening High Streets Safely Fund was launched at the end of May and although this is not much for each Local Authority, it will help us to make the town centre safer and accessible. It may not be how we want to shop, however this is how we need to shop in the months ahead. Look out for one way walking routes, social distancing reminders and hand sanitisers throughout the retail and leisure areas as we ask shoppers to put their faith back into our hard pressed retailers. The effort is boosted by the change of heart from Debenhams to remain in Golden Square. If we want big brands like this to stay in Warrington we need to keep it local.
Bar and restaurant owners will be anxious to open their doors and we are exploring with the Business Improvement District (BID) and Council colleagues on how we can expand the public realm to give them more space to operate. Thankfully, interest in Time Square has continued and we are close to signing up a couple of new tenants. Again, we will ensure that both business owners and customers feel safe with suitable signage and space. Market traders will be similarly keen to open their stalls again, although those selling fresh food have been very busy with the successful click & collect initiative. Indeed, Rob Leicester was on TV again to talk about fruit & veg sales – surely a talk show is on the way?
Colleagues have continued to distribute the government’s Small Business and Retail, Leisure & Hospitality grants to local companies. As I type, over £32m of the £35m has been paid to help businesses through this difficult period. We have also been asked to give out £1.5m to tenants not paying their own rates, B & B’s, charities and market traders. Applicants must demonstrate a significant loss in revenue and if there is any money left over, we will use this Discretionary Grant for other claimants. This will be open until the end of June and details of all grants can be found on the Council’s website www.warrington.gov.uk/grants-small-businesses-coronavirus-update
Despite this support, there are still lots of businesses unable to access funding, especially those registered at home that are ineligible for the self-employment subsidy. We will continue to lobby with others to central government as we look to protect as many enterprises as we can. Take care, stay safe and look forward to seeing you in town as soon as we are allowed!