SEVEN CRITICAL ACTIONS to mitigate the Covid-19 impact on micro and small businesses.

The Enterprise Northern Ireland (ENI) network teams continue to work, daily, with hundreds of small and micro businesses as well as charities and social enterprises, providing survival planning support and guidance to help businesses understand and avail of the range of announced covid-19 emergency support measures.

This week a short ENI survey was completed by more than 500 businesses from right across Northern Ireland, representing all sectors. It was aimed at investigating and summarizing how micro and small businesses are coping with the ongoing crisis and how effective recently introduced support measures are.

1. Ways must be found to speed up disbursement of recently introduced support schemes including cash grants, income support for self-employed and furloughed staff payment claims.

2. The Emergency Fund earmarked to support businesses not currently able to access existing regional or national grant schemes must be opened immediately. The list below covers a significant number of micro and small viable businesses who are presently missing out.

I. Micro & small businesses in serviced office/flexible workspace units.
II. Micro & small charities and social enterprises.
III. Micro & small businesses occupying 3 small units or more (usually in business parks)
IV. Micro & small businesses in premises with NAV > £15,000.
V. Micro & small businesses in premises with NAV< £1590.
VI. Non premises based micro & small businesses.
VII. Start-ups and recently self-employed (during the last 12 months)
VIII. Directors (usually sole) of small companies who get paid through low salary and dividends.

In relation to points 1 and 2 above, we note:

  • The Welsh Government recently announced a Resilience Fund to help small and micro businesses and social enterprises who were not eligible for their grant scheme
  • The Scottish Government have launched an additional fund to target newly self-employed people and businesses who are ineligible for other Scottish Government or UK Government schemes. This fund (Scotland) will be channelled through local authorities and enterprise agencies.

3. Banks must provide a quick response, flexible, sensitive range of products/services to micro and small businesses to include:

  • Overdraft facility (expedited, no security) to support businesses during lockdown and to help fuel the revive and rebuild period as restrictions are reduced. Should be interest free for 12 months.

4. A Northern Ireland Business Resilience & Reboot Loan Fund/ part Grant should be established, aimed primarily at micro and small businesses who have difficulty accessing the CBILS. Loans of up to £75,000 with no interest charged for initial 12 months and repayment, over five years, to begin in April 2021. The loan relationship must include mentoring and business support for at least 6 months post disbursement.

5. Some LED activity must be immediately repurposed to provide consistent NI-wide local business survival support and guidance.

6. A co-ordinated programme of support (NI-wide) to assist businesses re-emerge in line with reducing restrictions and then to adapt and build their business over an 18-month period.
In relation to points 5 and 6 above, we note that Enterprise NI are already naturally

  • engaged in the delivery of this support as the local ‘go-to’ for all local micro and small businesses.
  • Informed by this engagement and recent survey, ENI have outlined how the design, construct and delivery of this vital support and guidance could be expedited effectively in the coming months.

7. Provision of a Resilience Grant to Enterprise NI for disbursement to Local Enterprise Agencies, to partly buffer the impact of rental loss and, critically, to enable local business support continuity.

The ENI network remains as the most active interface with Northern Irelands business population. The network has 1902 tenant businesses (31st March 2020) employing almost 5000 people. Over the past two weeks, network teams have (remotely) worked with more than 5,000 businesses providing survival planning support and guidance to help businesses understand and avail of the range of announced covid-19 emergency support measures. We need to ensure this significant support system for local businesses is able to continue.