President’s letter to Chamber members: Coronavirus

Here’s a copy of the letter President Steve  Farnham has sent to Chamber members:

We are in unprecedented times and I thought I would just drop you a note to let you know that we will support you through the challenges ahead. I will pass on information and thoughts as we get it. Initially that may be quite frequently as things change at speed.  Over the course of this I will make contact with you to get a general feel for the help and support that is required so that we can make the right representations going forward.

We have good relationships locally with the Dorchester Bid, Town and County Councils, Dorset Chamber of Commerce, our local MP and more widely with the Local Enterprise Partnership and we all need to be pushing in the same direction to get to the other side of this situation.

I thought I would begin by sharing a few practical points.

1. General advice

Government advice for businesses

More locally, the Dorset Chamber has full-time employees allocated to supporting local businesses and they are proposing to do a daily update on its website and LinkedIn page.

The Government has announced £330 billion of loans available via the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme.

2. Cash Flow

I understand that the current circumstances will impact on all of your businesses and some in a significant way. This will, however, hopefully be a short-term impact and normality will return in a few months’ time – hopefully sooner!

In the meantime, my practical views on this are:-

  1. Those of your who are renting premises will be approaching the March quarter day. I would suggest speaking to your landlords for support through this period. The level of support that landlords are going to be able to give will depend upon the nature of your business and their own position, but they will not want empty premises and will be expecting requests for rent concessions or deferments. I would expect them to look at that to look at those requests sympathetically.
  2. Those of you with mortgages (either on a commercial premise or your own homes) should make an approach to the mortgage lender to request a payment holiday. Again, most of the banks will be geared up to expect those requests and treat them sympathetically.
  3. A business rates holiday has been given to retail, hospitality and leisure businesses. There will also be a £10,000 payment to those businesses who are currently receiving small business rate relief. Further details on that are due to be published on Monday.

I appreciate that at the moment that holiday does not extend to those trading under planning consent for financial and professional businesses, such as estate agents and representations from the industry being made in that regard.

If you do pay by way of a direct debit – make sure it has been cancelled to avoid the payment going out.

  1. Look to see what savings can be made. With more time on your hands it might be a useful time to look at the contracts that you are on for things like insurance and utilities to see if savings can be made.

3. Employees

For most of us the biggest expense in our businesses are employee costs. They are also the most crucial part of our businesses. The decisions to be made on preserving continuity of the business whilst balancing the needs of individual staff members will probably be the more difficult decisions you will have to make. At the moment I will simply advise on the legal position which is:-

1: If an employee is sick, they are to be paid in accordance with the sickness provisions in their contract.

2: If they cannot work in the business because they are self-shielding as a vulnerable person, or somebody in their household is sick and they have to self-isolate for 14 days you could consider the following (unless their contractual provision provides something else)

3: Taking all or some of the period as annual leave; or

4: Being paid statutory sick pay for some or all of the period (that has now been extended so that is payable from the 1st day of an absence rather than the 4th day); or taking some or all of the period as unpaid leave.

5: It will be possible for some staff to work from home and you should look into the measures for achieving that if you have not already.

At the moment it is normal to have worries. Talking about concerns with others will help ease the burden. We have a wide network on individuals who can offer a friendly ear. I intend making contact with you all over the coming weeks but please do contact me at or 01305 756309 if there is anything that you think we can help with in the meantime.