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North business leader voices concern over slow pace of government support for businesses


By Alan Hendry

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Businesses have been hit hard and in many cases 'simply do not have the cash reserves' to keep paying staff for an indefinite period while waiting for help, says Trudy Morris of Caithness Chamber of Commerce.
Businesses have been hit hard and in many cases 'simply do not have the cash reserves' to keep paying staff for an indefinite period while waiting for help, says Trudy Morris of Caithness Chamber of Commerce.

Far North business leader Trudy Morris has voiced concern at the slow pace of government support for firms that are struggling to cope with the impact of the coronavirus crisis.

Ms Morris, chief executive of Caithness Chamber of Commerce, warns that many businesses "simply do not have the cash reserves" to keep paying staff for an indefinite period while waiting for help to come through.

It has left a number of them in an untenable position, she says in her regular Chamber Comment column in this week's Caithness Courier, sister paper to The Northern Times.

"While it has been welcome to see the first tranche of small business grants handed out by Highland Council recently, much of the other support promised by UK and Scottish governments has yet to materialise fully or has turned out to come with unpalatable conditions attached," Ms Morris writes.

"The major factor here is the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the length of time it has taken to get this up and running. While it is good that HMRC is now processing applications for the scheme, many businesses have remained liable for their wages bill while operating income has shrunk to little or nothing. It also remains to be seen how quickly grant claims will be processed now that the scheme is open.

"Coupled with the difficulties businesses have reported so far in accessing the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, this has left many businesses in an untenable position. As the age-old saying goes, 'cash is king', and many businesses simply do not have the cash reserves to keep paying staff indefinitely."

She says "the final blow for many" will be the apparent refusal of the insurance industry to cover claims for business interruption.

On a more positive note, Ms Morris adds: "It has been hugely heartening over the past month to see how businesses across the region have sprung into action to help their local communities, from providing personal protective equipment to frontline workers to helping deliver essentials to the most vulnerable in our society."

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