The co-owner of a popular Homerton pub has presented a list of policies required to aid local businesses still struggling with the fallout of the unprecedented disruption caused by the pandemic and associated lockdown.
Luke Mcloughlin, co-owner of the Spread Eagle, was praised for his “helpful suggestions” by economy lead Cllr Guy Nicholson at a recent meeting scrutinising the continuing impact felt by Hackney’s just over 22,000 businesses, of which 20,000 are classed as microbusinesses.
Councillors heard of the “real concern” over how to manage debt as a direct result of loan promotions such as bounceback loans promoted by central government; the real costs of reopening and then closing as restrictions come and go; the so-called ‘channel shift’ as many consumers turn to online shopping rather than the high street; and fears about the potential impact of Brexit.
McLoughlin, whose pub pre-pandemic had an annual turnover in excess of £1m, said: “The main issue that a lot of businesses are experiencing, particularly in hospitality, is cashflow and having money to pay suppliers, lay out the furlough to the staff and to pay our landlord has been a major issue. There is a lot of businesses that without proper cashflow are going to struggle over the next few months.
“Another struggle has been adapting to the change in regulations, reconfiguring our work flow and risk assessments. This has not only been time consuming but costs money, and is another level of complexity that we’ve had to deal with.
“I’m hopeful we’ll be able to negotiate a deal with the landlord to pay some of the rent that we owe, but the clock is ticking unfortunately. Looking on the Hackney website today, we are eligible for a £2,000 grant for closing in November. Hopefully we’ll receive this at some stage.
“Just to put this in perspective, we lose £2,000 in supplies of food and alcohol that we have to dispose of when we close down, so although the money is very well received in terms of closing a business down and reopening it, £2,000 is probably about half the total cost of that.”
McLoughlin went on to call for further grants to help with business’ immediate cashflow problems, as well as suggesting other policies including council-backed loans, the subsidisation of staff salaries, and to aid the hospitality sector a relaxation of licensing regulations, permitted drinking zones, and the fast-tracking of changes in licensing applications.
The Town Hall has worked to pay out just under £160m in its business support package from central government to businesses trading in Hackney, while rolling out its own measures to support local industry, including a three-month rent deferral for its commercial tenants, a rent holiday for the voluntary sector organisations renting council buildings and the suspension of commercial waste payments for closed businesses and fees charges for street market traders.
Council finance mandarin Ian Williams has said the next wave of support from central government has a more “prescriptive methodology”, with the council understood to be testing its flexibility as scrutiny chair Cllr Mete Coban called for the money to go to businesses “that actually need it”.
According to Williams, £3.5m of the business rates reliefs administered by the council went to large supermarkets trading in the borough such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer.
The Town Hall has been attempting to promote local business’ online platforms as well as launching its Love Hackney Shop Local campaign, with Nicholson pledging to take away McLoughlin’s suggestions for exploration as to “what is within the remit of the council to connect with.”
Addressing the support already provided by the Town Hall, Nicholson added: “It’s fair to say that there will be a day of reckoning with this, because this has cost the council a lot of money.
“It’s not that we begrudge that money – I don’t think any of us would begrudge that money going to the borough’s businesses and everybody working in them, but it will have an implication across services looking ahead. We’ve just got to grit our teeth, focus in and concentrate.”