Debbie Hough Bollard explains how directors and business entrepreneurs were the missing link in the government’s support programme.
How do you see the first few weeks of the industry s re-opening panning out for you?
Debbie Hough Bollard: These are difficult times, not made easy by the false start 3 weeks ago when many in the industry had already brought staff in off furlough and started floating up in anticipation of a June 15 start only to have the rug pulled from under them at the last moment. Some of the public are clearly still very worried about the coronavirus and have already stated that they will not be venturing out far for sometime, that together with restricted numbers for social distancing will obviously have an effect on many businesses’ bottom line. High street AGCs are probably less likely to suffer as customers usually visit alone and can be separated by Perspex screens so I imagine their numbers will return to normal quicker than FECs where visitor numbers are usually higher especially with families. I have been working with Clients to make sure that they are ready to open, including some making applications to vary premises licences to deal with the change of layout. The Track & Trace requirement has been quite confusing and as I type this there is still much debate about whether its required, what is required and whether visitors will co-operate.
How will your daily work routine and business functions change due to Covid-19 and lockdown?
In the days leading up to and during early lockdown I provided pro-bono HR advice on the Job Retentions scheme and even ended up recording videos on my laptop in the kitchen for businesses to watch explaining the need to consult, and how to consult with employees and obtain their consent to being furloughed. I juggled that with getting a local support group up and running to help the elderly and vulnerable in my village. However by May work started to pick up again and I am now back to almost normal with Clients wanting new Operating and Premises Licences. I’m also working with a number of restaurants and pubs in light of the new pavement licence that will be issued by local licensing authorities under the Business and Planning Bill which will hopefully come into law by the end of the month
Social distancing and international travel are two key areas that will need adjustment. How will that impact on your business and what measures are you taking to adapt?
I work from home so social distancing is not a problem in the work place. I do travel overseas from time to time and am pleased to hear today that the Government has announced a list of countries that people can return from without the need to quarantine.
You’ve got a reputation for hitting the ground running, so what’s on the product development plan?
I will be continuing to provide the same quality cost effective licensing and HR services that I have always done.
The coming months are crucial to the health of the business. What do you think the government needs to do in terms of grants, tax concessions and regulatory support to ensure a sustainable way forward for you?
I got no help during the shutdown as my office is at home and my Directors salary comprises mainly of dividends. I didn’t want to take out a loan and was fortunate enough to have limited overheads that I could work with to keep my business going; a couple of businesses even paused charges while continuing to provide a service which was really appreciated. It would certainly help me if the Government would look at cutting Corporation tax liability especially for smaller businesses at least in the short term.
What has been the real impact of lockdown on business and the industry in general?
I am not sure we will know the full answer to that question until next year. The pubs and arcades need the footfall to succeed, and unless they do that has a knock on effect on the suppliers. It would certainly be helpful if we had good weather to get visitors to the coast late into the year. If customer confidence remains low and they stay away it will be an absolute disaster and I worry that many small businesses may not reopen next year.