COVID-19: President’s weekly letter to members

Well, after the upheaval of last week it has been a more settled week for me, albeit  getting used to a new routine with the world upside down.  We had our first Chamber Executive meeting by way of Zoom this week which worked remarkably well – and we got to see Steve Bully’s collection of gold discs! I hope that you are also able to get into some sort of routine yourselves. That will be important to get us through this in the best shape and normality will return before too long.

The raft of government  financial support  measures which we have seen in the previous couple of weeks  has also settled down this week. We now seem to be in a position where they have undertaken their primary measures and there is just some tinkering to be done to close the gaps or improve the schemes. Those gaps continue to exist and although the majority of workers benefit from the scheme is introduced, it is very unfortunate and unfair for those who do fall through the support net.

The two main areas that still need improvement are support for those newly self-employed and support for those family businesses who receive their income through a company set up.The British Chambers of Commerce are still pushing to provide support for those people. There is a petition here in relation to the company element and I would urge you to support that and share it.

In the last 24 hours the Treasury has  also announced changes to the Business Loan Interruption Scheme to remove the requirement for banks to investigate whether or not customers are eligible for the bank’s own loans first, so this scheme is no longer simply a scheme of last resort. That should hopefully see more loans under this scheme being approved. Those banks who are chamber members and part of the scheme have kindly put details onto our website as to the procedure for applying to them, so you do not have to wait on the phone for hours. I am endeavouring to make contact with the other major banks to add their application process too.

We have also heard that that there are a lot of questions still in relation to the government scheme to “Furlough“ staff. My vice-president, Peter Greenway runs Prospero HR and comments as follows:

“There is a lot of advice on line about decisions and processes to furlough your staff for a period of time.  However, if you are a director of a company who also receives a salary from the company under PAYE you can also furlough yourself and receive up to 80% of your average PAYE salary.

“BUT – as part of the scheme anyone who is furloughed cannot undertake any work on behalf of the organisation.  There is an exception for Company Directors who are allowed to undertake their statutory duties but no other work at all is likely to be considered to fall within the furlough scheme and may be treated as fraud by HMRC if a claim is made.

“This means that even posting something to promote the business on social media is likely to fall foul of the scheme and could result in you not qualifying for the scheme.  Of course, all posts on social media will be available to all to read and check so if you do intend to do anything at all to promote the business it would be best advice not to furlough yourself.  Added to that, any payment you receive as PAYE is likely to be at a low level to reduce tax liability so it may be worth considering whether you want to furlough yourself at all.

“However, did you also know that you can rotate those who are furloughed?  If you have sufficient work for some of your staff to undertake, with their agreement you can have some furloughed for a period and then others later so that everyone has the opportunity to earn their full salary for a period.  But do bear in mind that the minimum period of furlough is three weeks so someone can’t be furloughed for just a week or two.

“Staff are able to undertake online training whilst they are furloughed as long as they are not making money or providing services to the employer. If the training is required by the employer they must be paid at least the National Minimum wage for the period they are undertaking the training, so if they are on minimum wage and only receiving 80% of that figure, the employer must make up the shortfall for the period of the on line training.

“Also, do remember that furloughing staff is an amendment to their contractual terms and should be agreed with them.  Please also confirm the agreement in writing so that all parties to the contract are aware of the change and the terms under which the agreement has been made. Please do contact me if I can help with any issues.”

There are also a series of replies to frequently asked questions from Adrian Poole at Porter Dodson Solicitors which can be found here  .

We will continue to update information on our website and please do forward any information from your own businesses that you think would benefit others so that we can share that. These can be emailed to

Fortunately, the weather looks set to shine this weekend and I wish you health and happiness for the forthcoming week. As always do get in touch with me if you need support  or 01305 756309.