Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Small businesses need support and certainty now in face of Covid-19 crisis

At around 4.30pm yesterday, a customer brought a guitar into the studio and asked if I could change a string for him. Usually, I get one of the boys to do this, but as none were around, I did the change myself. As I always do, I cleaned the guitar up, tuned it and had a chat. The guy then gave me a fiver and said "have a pint". It was a nice gesture, so I thought "I'll do just that". My route home passes the Mill Hill Services Club, so I nipped in for a pint of Hophead, their finest real ale on tap. Whilst I was in the club, the Prime Minister came on TV and made his statement. 

The first thing that was clear was that I was doing something he felt was inadvisable. As there were only two other customers and Leanne the barmaid in the club, I decided not to panic. I finished my drink and bade everyone farewell, not knowing when I'd next see them. Like many pubs, clubs, theatres and cinemas, the Mill Hill Services Club has a decision to make. In December, the country elected Boris Johnson to lead us. Leadership means making tough decisions, doing the right thing.

Yesterday was the day it became 100% clear that Boris Johnson is not a leader. He had a decision to make. The scientific advice said that people should not go to pubs, clubs, theatres and cinemas. A leader would have issued an executive order closing them, that should be the end of the matter. Boris did not. He showed he lacks the skills and bottle to do it. His decision means that these businesses cannot claim on their insurance policies. This is not trivial. The entertainment and hospitality industry is a key part of the UK economy and the inability of Boris to take the required steps has exposed the industry to a huge amount of risk. Millions of jobs are at risk, real ale has a shelf life, all of the micro brewers and real ale pubs will take an especially big hit. If you turn the lights off, when you come back the beer may not be drinkable. It needs TLC to deliver a good pint. This is just one small aspect of the crisis.
For me in the music industry, we are seeing mayhem. The following is just one email we've received today

Sorry we've had to cancel this but drummer and guitarist vulnerable to the you know what.
Could you please refund, if you need any more details please let me know.

Gonna be tough all round, hope you can weather it. We've had six gigs cancelled already!

I've processed half a dozen refunds today, all with similar stories. 

At present, we believe that our operation is not high risk. We have issued guidelines to all customers on safety. We have asked them to go directly to studios, not congregate in reception and just come to pay for sessions. We have wipes available and are regularly cleaning. But there is no clarity at all. We are just one of a million small businesses that cannot make any plans, beyond doing everything to cut costs. My staff are terrified of the effects. We have a thriving business making recordings for Bahmitzvah's. Sadly we've seen six recording sessions cancelled as children are having their big day cancelled. It must heartbreaking for the kids who have done all of the preparation and were looking forward to the party. There are several companies who use us as part of their package for such events, These spent the day cancelling bookings, I really worry for them, as this is their busiest time of the year. 

As for the small cafe's on our high streets, these are going too face a nightmare scenario. They really need help today. Like many small businesses, I had a sleepless night worrying, trying to figure out how to manage, how I can be fair to staff, without destroying the business.

The lack of leadership compounds these worries by the day. That is without the worry of sickness. Last week my auntie cancelled her 90th birthday party. She is fit and healthy for a lady of her age, but I am terrified for her. The lack of action from Boris has certainly not helped keep her safe.
As a natural optimist, I am in new territory. I cannot remember a worse time. My business is now in survival mode. The sad truth is that the government has done nothing at all to help. 

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