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Islington businesses fear government help ‘could be too late’

Traders warn £350billion support package won’t come quickly enough for them to survive coronavirus crisis

20 March, 2020 — By Sam Ferguson

Archway traders Hak Huseyin, Jan Tucker and Av Tahir

TRADERS have warned any delays in accessing the government’s coronavirus business fund will mean only companies who didn’t need it in the first place will benefit, while small shops and venues will perish.

It comes just days after chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a £350billion stimulus package for businesses struggling against the fallout of the Covid-19 crisis, including £330bn of business loan guarantees.

Included in the announcement was a business rates holiday, and grants of between £10,000 and £25,000 for small businesses.

But with details on how to access the money scarce, and time running out for many in Islington, traders are not convinced the help is going to arrive in time and are predicting businesses and jobs are certain to go across the borough.

Jan Tucker, who chairs the Archway town centre group, said smaller businesses were the ones that would bear the brunt.

“Some of our small independent food shops are lucky to be still going at all,” she said.

A subdued Camden Passage this week

“We haven’t got a clue how long this is going to last. We are hoping people will, to a degree, be able to go out and buy stuff. Offices have already shut down as people work from home or are sent home, and that has had a huge impact already because we have lost the passing trade.”

Ms Tucker added: “A lot of the independent businesses in Archway are already hovering above the red line, before all this started.

“Most businesses can’t afford to go months without anything coming in and still pay their staff, so then how will people pay their rent?

“There’s help from the government, which is great, but will it come through quickly enough to save businesses and jobs? It will be no use once businesses have already folded.”

Mr Sunak has urged businesses not to lay off any staff or reduce wages before contacting the government for help.

Faisal Mian, of the Blackstock Road Traders Association, and the Wu Shi Taiji Quan and Qi Gong Association, ­confirmed his business had shut indefinitely.

It had been offering free breathing exercise classes in the hope that it could buy hospitals extra time in the midst of a ventilator shortage.

“The situation is that everybody is shutting down,” said Mr Mian.

Shutters pulled down as Islington shops decided to close

“The only businesses that are still open are the ones who can’t afford to close. If the money does come through, it comes down to how long it takes to access it.

“If it takes longer to access that money, it will only be of use to businesses who didn’t need it in the first place.”

Christine Lovett, chief executive of the Angel business improvement district, also known as angel.london, said the community had already been “deeply affected”.

“Many hospitality and retail businesses are making the difficult decision to temporarily close, and understandably there is a great deal of concern expressed by business owners,” she added. “At angel.london, the key thing at this time is to provide clear and relevant information to the business community and, in some cases, simple moral support at this time of great uncertainty.

“The government has pledged support for businesses. We are receiving updated guidance and support packages for businesses covering different sectors and types and, whilst this is welcome, more will be needed and we will fight for this.

“In the coming days and weeks details as to how businesses can access these vital support packages will be published. We are working closely with Islington Council to communicate these to businesses and support them through applications where possible.

“Our businesses are resilient. Even in the face of adversity, we’ve already seen great acts of kindness – independent restaurants offering fresh produce free to local charities whilst they have to temporarily close.

“It is this kind of collective spirit that defines the Angel.”

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