The importance of voices for business at this time.

LAST Sunday morning, coffee in hand, I sat down to watch Sunday politics to keep abreast of latest developments and reviewing the topics of the week.

Business support was a key topic, and it was devastating to hear Tina McKenzie, Chair of the Federation of Small Businesses, discuss the hardships being faced and demonstrating the very bleak outlook for many businesses if we do not find a way forward both in terms of the handling of the pandemic, but also enhancing the support available to these businesses.

The impact on business is substantial and that on each of their employees is devastating. Furlough has been a hot topic during this lockdown and as we have seen business vilified for not looking at restructures, she reminded us of the fact that whilst the support available is welcomed, it remains far from enough to enable survival.

I recently received an email from a local politician who stated, “I’m in awe you are still in business”. While this could be accepted as a compliment, this is far from the support and voice a small business like mine requires or is looking for, and this was conveyed to them.

The business community needs a clear voice with a key message and desire, rather than noise. These voices, like Tina, work tirelessly to press the government to step in with more support, minimising their costs and contribution while revenues are non-existent, and I applaud them for doing so.

With news breaking this week that there is still £350 million remaining in the Stormont COVID “pot” to be allocated towards businesses before March, I would urge Diane Dodds and Conor Murphy to listen to businesses and their representatives to ensure businesses survive.

It would be truly shameful if this money had to be returned to Westminster as a result of poor planning and slow reactions, while local businesses are making very difficult decisions due to lack of financial support which clearly is available, but not utilised.

With financial survival for businesses and more importantly each of us as individuals and our families the sole aim, Tina succinctly reminded us that our elected representatives should be held to account, not the businesses themselves.

The Sunday Times recently reported that the public feels more frightened now than at any time before with 56% of voters feeling ‘personally threatened’ by COVID19. It also reported that Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak have agreed on a ‘recovery plan’ to save jobs.

The reality is however, that if they and our own Executive do not deliver this strategy correctly, without delay or U-turn, the job market will constrict further. Many professional trade bodies are reporting that their members don’t have enough in the bank until April and judging by numerous reports this past week, lockdown and on-going restrictions are likely to extend beyond April. How can businesses be expected to survive without this?

We all have a voice, but not all of us use it. As a business community we need vocal and active business leaders to speak out to help fight our case. A great demonstrative example of this is the great work of my good friend Brian Donaldson from Excluded NI. Throughout, Brian has spoken out and acted to help thousands who have been financially excluded with no support being provided to them.

Brian had established himself as newly self-employed chef just before lockdown, only to find that as support packages were announced, he quickly found himself excluded from all government support offered. With a family, and a mortgage to pay, Brian created a platform for his case to constructively find a resolution for all those who found themselves in the same situation.

By working closely with local politicians, Brian, has researched and submitted proposals to the Department for the Economy with numerous resolutions and proposals to deliver financial assistance to these groups, which has resulted in thousands, including Ltd Company directors, eventually being awarded some financial support.

Brian continues daily to ensure the excluded have a voice and shows how being a voice can bring about change!

As a business owner, I send a huge thank you to all the hard-working professional trade bodies and voices for our communities, who throughout this time have worked tirelessly to ensure we all have all have a business to return to in the future.

If you, like so many, are in a difficult situation, be sure to reach out to your local business trade body today to highlight your plight and use their voices as much as you can. We all need as much support and survival mechanism as possible. It’s evident that the more voices there are and the louder they become; successful outcomes can be delivered.

I will wrap up by leaving you with a well-known quote by Napoleon Bonaparte: ‘Ten people who speak make more noise than ten thousand who are silent’.

Until next week, stay safe!