Ben Bradley, Conservative MP for Mansfield
Mike Robinson, Strategic Director, Mansfield District Council
Mansfield and Ashfield 2020 had the pleasure of hosting a question and answer session via a video call with Ben Bradley, Conservative MP for Mansfield and Mike Robinson, Strategic Director, Mansfield District Council. Members were invited to attend the call and ask their questions directly.
We would like to thank both Ben and Mike for taking the time to speak with our members about the concerns that they have amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
Below are the answers to the questions that we felt would resonate most with other members of the business community.
Paul Wheeler – Mansfield Building Society
“What local charitable initiatives are there that we can get involved with as a business? We have a charitable fund which we are keen to direct in the best way possible to support local people through this crisis.”
Mike Robinson – There is a crowdfunding campaign on the Mansfield District Council website to direct support to charities, community and volunteer groups that have been helping out during the emergency.
Andrew Cropley – Vision West Nottingham College
“What role do you think the college can play in the recovery phase and beyond?”
Ben Bradley – It’s very early days to say what this will look like given that the restrictions have been extended for another 3 weeks. It’s important to note that 2 million new claims for Universal Credit have been made in the last 3 weeks. Some of those will return to work when we come through this, others may not have jobs to return to. In this instance we will need to be looking at Adult learning and retraining and obviously, this is where VWNC can help.
Mike Robinson – We need to revisit our plans for the towns fund and identify how this can be amended to help aid recovery and growth once we start to come out of this situation. I think it’s important that as part of that, and echoing what Ben has already said, we need to identify where the skills gaps are and work with the college to look at how we address those gaps. Some of this could be around new gaps due to the way things have changed as a result of the lockdown such as online ordering and working from home, I think it’s important that we keep an open mind as to how we can work effectively in the future.
Chris Painter-Heywood – Brambles Florist
“How do you propose supporting your local high street retailers when the lock down is lifted? By encouraging shopping locally, it will help to increase community spirit and boost the local economy.”
Mike Robinson – We are working with other agencies to address this on a county level. We are surveying businesses in the area to determine the impact that COVID – 19 has had so that we can formulate policies and interventions that will provide the right level of support.
On a local level, we were already working on a master plan approach to try and regenerate key sites including the town centre. I think it’s more important than ever that we develop ideas to support local retailers using initiatives such as shop local schemes and loyalty schemes. It will be hard to determine what this will look like until we have further information on what the end of lockdown will mean for events such as mass gatherings and if any continued social distancing measures are put in place.
We will also need to make the most of the previous announcements around the increase in students flowing through the town due to the collaboration at Vision West Nottinghamshire College and Nottingham Trent University.
Ben Bradley – The fundamentals haven’t changed in that we were already discussing the need to diversify the high street, to move away from just retail and add in leisure and service offerings that will attract the footfall into the town.
It’s also important that these retailers are able to be innovative so this could be around higher online sales or increased social media presence as this could help those businesses become more viable in the future. We have the Town Deal and Future High Street fund money that will be vital in investing and transforming the town centre.
John Morley – i-Sourcer
“I have experienced major delays when trying to get responses from the banks whether this is call waiting times or email response times. Yes, we have had a grant come through the council and they deserve a pat on the back for how quickly that funding came through, however, in the meantime the delayed response from the banks is the thing that will cripple business owners like myself who have staff to consider. Our businesses won’t survive if we have to endure these long waiting times for cash. What can be done?”
Ben Bradley – We are very aware of the problems with both of the loan schemes. The loans being offered through retail banks are backed and organised by the British Business Bank. The issue is around capacity. This is the same issue that we have seen with the HMRC furlough scheme, there are only so many people with the knowledge and skills to do the necessary work. We know it needs to be faster and we are talking to them daily about how we can make this happen.
Graham Kirk – Mansfield Garage Doors
“We currently have our fitters furloughed and we are wondering when to bring them back. Some of them are keen to come back but others are concerned about being out on site. We are in the construction industry supplying and fitting garage doors and gates. Have you any further advice on this point please?”
Ben Bradley – As you are in the construction industry then you are not forced to close. You are of course free to carry on, on site or new developments, bearing in mind social distancing guidelines. When it comes to fitting things in private residence, so in people’s homes, then the advice is that only essential works should carry on. It’s up to individual households to decide what is essential for them, obviously if you have a great big hole in the side of your house then that is essential. As a business you can also make those decisions so a garage that is completely separate from the house for instance will have a different assessment.
It is all about how you can manage the social distancing for staff and residents.
Further guidance for the Construction Industry can be found here
Questions from other members of the business community
Over the course of the last few weeks Mansfield and Ashfield 2020 have been listening to the concerns/queries raised by other business owners in the region and decided to pose these questions directly to our guests.
“Can Ben raise with the powers that be the inconsiderate way in which the Insurance sector is dealing with issues related to Covid-19? Issues such as the exact wording requiring Covid-19…really? Is there anything the government can do to help these businesses?”
Ben Bradley – Honestly…probably not. We had discussions with the major insurers very early on and explained to them that where the terms stated pandemic or didn’t list specific illnesses then they needed to pay out. We also stated that where insurance covered forced closures such as when we said to the public ‘you can’t go to pubs and clubs’ then you need to treat this as a forced closure. So, we were able to help with some negotiations on these things but unfortunately, they are private agreements so we can’t force them, and we can’t go back retrospectively and change them. Where insurers have been adamant then there has been little we can do to change it.
This has been one of the reasons that the Chancellor introduced the measures to help businesses where we could. He very openly admitted in an early press conference that a number of businesses were not going to be insured for this and so the government have tried to plug the gaps with grants and other schemes.
“A lot of the measures such as staff being paid furlough and VAT referral schemes are great, however, they offer very short-term relief. How does the government both at national and local level intend to support businesses coming out the other side of the lock down measures?”
Ben Bradley – It’s a difficult question to answer as we haven’t started to re-open businesses as yet. The government are looking at ways to support businesses on a daily basis. We are investing in research to determine which businesses will need support on the other side of this. It is a very active and ongoing discussion alongside which areas and businesses we will be looking to reopen first.
There are going to be a number of challenges faced by businesses and I will be more than happy to take questions and ideas to government once we start to see what these challenges will be.
“Businesses may find that cashflow becomes an issue once they return due to difficulties within the supply chain, meaning that they don’t get paid so can’t pay staff once out of the furlough scheme etc. Do you think the banks could do more? Or are there other ways that we can get cash to these businesses?”
Ben Bradley – In terms of cashflow, the government would be pointing to the CBILS loan scheme, and yes, we are aware that there have been delays and challenges with this scheme. The government are talking to banks on a daily basis about how we speed the process up. There were changes made last week which meant that you will no longer have to go through the process of applying for commercial loans before you can apply to the emergency CBILS scheme. We are trying to make it easier for you to go to alternative lenders if your own bank hasn’t been able to help, which has been the case for some business owners.
For further information on financial support from the government take a look here
“What happens if there is a resurgence of the virus when the restrictions are lifted? Have we got any local plans in place?”
Mike Robinson – Well obviously we are taking the lead from national government and the scientific advisors. It’s encouraging to see that hospital admissions seem to be plateauing. We are also seeing the different stages of how the measures are affecting different countries in different stages and based on this I think it’s important that we have to have some kind of a local response. We are not just going to come out of lockdown and go straight back to the way things were. I believe that there will be some elements of social distancing in place for some time and we are all going to have to adjust to the brave new world that emerges.
Ben Bradley – Mike is absolutely right, there is no way we will be in a situation where we just go straight back to how things were. I believe there will be a steady stream of lifting different bits of different restrictions and social distancing will be required for quite some time.
In terms of resurgence, obviously we seen a level of this in China and other places, that have seen the levels go back up again once those restrictions have been lifted so we are very conscious of that. One of the factors we are considering in regard to what we open first is: what can we effectively close again at short notice if this becomes a problem? We don’t want to open things that are going to cost businesses million and millions to wind back up, only to find a week later that this isn’t going to work and have to tighten everything back down again.
There were some very interesting questions and responses and it was really good for everyone involved to gain an understanding of the issues facing business and government during this time.
Ben and Mike have offered to do this again at some point in the future so if any of our members feel that there was a question that wasn’t answered here or a new burning issue has arisen since the invitation was sent to members, then please get in touch with Ella and we will arrange to facilitate another session when we have enough interest.