Coronavirus: Social distancing grant needed for small firms

By Brian Meechan
BBC Wales business correspondent

  • Published
A woman looking anxious at workImage source, Getty Images
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The Welsh Government said it was doing all it could to support businesses

Small businesses need government cash to help staff to socially distance during the pandemic, an employers' group has said.

By law, companies in Wales must make sure staff can follow the two-metre rule during the restrictions.

But the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said cash was needed for changes to get staff back to work.

The Welsh Government said it was doing all it could to support employers and workers.

In a report, the FSB calls for a number of measures and schemes to help shops, small hotels, and businesses to survive and get back up and running when restrictions are eased.

Chairman Ben Francis said: "There must be a plan to assist firms as they seek to navigate such uncertain terrain.

"The pandemic has caused an unprecedented strain on Wales' smaller firms, but there is now an opportunity to look at how we ensure that the post-lockdown period is as successful as possible."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Tenby's tourism industry normally welcomes visitors during the summer months

With holidays being cancelled, tourism companies have warned they could go out of business with jobs being lost.

The Reopening Wales report calls for a tourism hibernation scheme, to help hotels and attractions survive the pandemic.

The scheme would allow businesses to access low-interest loans from the Development Bank of Wales, set up in 2017 to help small businesses get off the ground and grow.

They would not have to start paying them back until 2021.

Mr Francis said the loan was the only way businesses which rely on tourism would "survive" after losing trade during the peak spring and summer seasons.

"There are ways for Welsh Government to support these firms and ensure that they can still come back next season despite having lost a significant amount of income this year," he said.

"These are difficult questions that must be answered by Welsh Government to ensure that we can all benefit from the contribution of Wales' smaller firms."

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Taf Valley Coaches director Clive Edwards said the family-run firm was desperate

The report also calls on ministers to "direct" large companies and public bodies to pay small suppliers as soon as possible to stop them going under.

In response to the recommendations, the Welsh Government said it was doing all it could during a "difficult time" for all businesses.

First Minister Mark Drakeford and Economy minister Ken Skates are due to attend a meeting with industry and trade unions on Thursday to discuss safety in workplaces.

The £1.1bn Economic Resilience Fund, set up to help respond to the financial impact of the pandemic, had received a large amount of applications and had been paused while the Welsh Government "consider what further support we can provide", a spokesman said.