Small businesses react to second lockdown: 'What the hell are we doing?'

Lucy Harley-McKeown
·4-min read
A woman wearing a protective mask walks past a warning sign in Manchester, as the city and the surrounding area faces local restrictions in an effort to avoid a local lockdown being forced upon the area, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, Britain, August 1, 2020. REUTERS/Phil Noble
A woman wearing a protective mask walks past a warning sign in Manchester, as the city and the surrounding area faces local restrictions in an effort to avoid a local lockdown being forced upon the area, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, Britain, August 1, 2020. Reuters/Phil Noble

Small business leaders have hit out against the UK government’s handling of the coronavirus, and the imminent second national lockdown.

While some are resigned to the fact that a lockdown is what is needed to get caseloads under control, others feel the handling of the pandemic in general has been shambolic.

The new restrictions, announced in a press conference by Boris Johnson on Saturday (31 October), will see England locked down for four weeks from 5 November to 2 December in an effort to combat rapidly rising coronavirus infection rates.

“What the hell are we doing? This country is being run by a confederacy of dunces,” said Jonathan Planner, director of the High Wycombe-based headhunter, Jonathan Planner Associates.

“Insane debt levels and London ambulance services reportedly attending 30+ suicides per week, significantly higher than ever before. Someone from the business world needs to be advising the government not NHS advisers and scientists, many of whom are out to make a name for themselves with ever more extreme pronouncements,” he continued.

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“Without taxes being paid there will be no NHS, no schools, no local council services, no anything. We are being steered into a massive downturn causing millions to lose homes and livelihoods through the utter incompetence of a government that is very clearly out of its depth.”

Data released in October showed the first half of this year saw a record number of store closures in the UK due to the coronavirus pandemic.

According to research by the Local Data Company (LDC) and PwC UK, 11,120 chain operator outlets have shut so far this year, while 5,119 shops opened. This means a net decline of 6,001 — almost double the decline tracked in 2019.

New lockdowns could compound issues for beleaguered business owners.

Marcus Hamilton, director of Frindow.com, a new social network that has set out to combat loneliness, said: “This new lockdown will compound the deep level of anxiety and loneliness that is already felt across the country, adding that “charities and social organisations urgently need support to help with the overwhelming anxiety, isolation and loneliness that will once again creep in during the weeks ahead.”

“COVID-19 is a psychological as much as a biological threat,” he said.

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Wirral-based Fiona Jones, who creates bespoke jewellery and sells it through Sunago Unique Creations said: “It’s going from bad to worse. I have written off the all-important Christmas market already, due to a lack of events, and have no clue how my business will get through to 2021.

Jones said she is trying to move her business online, but the economic environment is holding it back.

“I don't know of anyone who wants to celebrate this year and buy the kind of products I offer. I am looking to build my memory jewellery line, as the way things are shaping up, it’s memories of the dead that could, tragically, be the biggest growth market. A very grim thought,” she said.

Other business owners have been more supportive of blanket measures across England.

Noel Hutchinson, director of the Poole-based powerboat experience firm, Get Lost Sailing, said: "As strange as it seems for a business owner to say this, I applaud this decision for a lockdown that applies to England as a whole.

“Businesses in areas of the country in lower level lockdowns have needed as much support as those in higher tier lockdowns. It at least puts an end to the radical uncertainty faced by small businesses in different regions of the country.”

Data released at the end of October showed that even before a second lockdown was announced, confidence among small businesses had reached record lows.

Federation of Small Businesses showed that a record 25% of small firms reduced headcounts in Q2 at the height of the coronavirus lockdown. An even higher proportion (29%) expect to make redundancies over the next three months. Meanwhile, 12% said they expect to let at least a quarter of their staff go.

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