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Too little, too late? Islington traders get lifeline from chancellor

Virus-hit businesses facing scramble to stay afloat as Government steps in to help

27 March, 2020 — By Sam Ferguson

Archway market fruit and veg trader Stephanie Smith is among those left vulnerable by the coronavirus outbreak

BUSINESSES are reeling across the borough after the government shut down all non-essential traders, with employers warning of delays in accessing a complex array of measures designed to protect them during the coronavirus crisis.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has pledged loans, grants and the funding of furloughed staff’s wages for businesses which are being forced to close. Yesterday (Thursday) he announced new measures for the self-employed who have lost their work.

But Jan Tucker, chairwoman of the Archway Town Centre Group, said: “A lot of the businesses are concerned. Obviously a lot are now turning to the Government measures, but they are not coming up with it as quickly as we anticipated.

“Some of the business owners I know don’t really understand what it is they need to do. A lot of these are classed as self-employed, and they are very worried that they will not have any money until the summer.”

She added: “The council are doing their best to get the right information out to businesses, but it’s the uncertainty of how long this is going to last that is really getting to people.”

Christine Lovett, chief executive of the Angel’s business improvement district, told the Tribune that some packages announced by the government, such as the small business grant funding, have yet to be made available for businesses to apply for.

“We are aware this is causing difficulties, in terms of cash flow and liquidity, and we are doing all we can to advise businesses accordingly to overcome this hurdle,” she added.

“We continue to work closely with Islington Council to ensure that support packages and grants can be accessed as soon as possible. Clearly businesses in the Angel have been, and will continue to be, deeply affected by the coronavirus pandemic, however it is too early to fully assess the impact of the latest government announcement.”

After days of calls to help the self-employed and freelancers who have seen their income vanish, Mr Sunak announced yesterday that the government will step in.

It will now pay self-employed people up to 80 per cent of their recent earnings as part of a plan to put an “arm around every worker”.

It will be paid in a lump sum but not arrive until June.

The news has, however, been welcomed by Islington’s market traders, who were facing months without any income.

David Twydell of Chapel Market Traders Association

It is understood the council had agreed to waive market licence fees for traders who were unable to sell their wares during the crisis, although this did not apply to stalls selling essential items such as food.

Fruit and veg trader Stephanie Smith, founder of Archway market, said she was thankful that the money will cover her business costs, but said the choice to base any payments on percentage of earnings was “indicative of the inequality in Tory Britain”. “Of course I’m grateful, it will keep me in business,” she added.

“But I still think that it’s wrong to judge someone by the amount of money in their wage packet. Hospital cleaners are going to work every day and risking their lives, and are being paid a full wage that is far less than the 80 per cent managers can claim for being at home.”

Ms Smith said market traders should be exempt from the fees, including those providing essential items such as food.

“I think it comes down to the same issues.” she said. “People are going to work and putting their lives at risk and are still getting charged market licence fees. They should be getting rewarded for providing a vital service, not being charged.

“Islington should cancel all fees for market traders – even those still trading. They will have high costs and far fewer customers, while putting themselves in danger.”

David Twydell, head of the Chapel Market Traders Association, said the govern­ment were dealing with the situation as best they could.

“I sell fruit and veg, but I’ve taken the decision to close to keep my family and others safe,” he told the Tribune.

“I think that’s the right thing to do. At the end of the day, people’s health is the most important thing.

“The government have been generous with their packages, and the council have already waived some licence fees. We’re going to talk to them about other fees like customer parking and storage, because if there are no customers then we shouldn’t have to pay those.

“But everyone needs to pull together. We’ll rely on our savings and get through. Hopefully it won’t last months and months. We’ll reopen once this is all over.

“Right now it’s about protecting people, and that is what the govern­ment are focused on.”

Businesses classed as non-essential have pulled down their shutters, and are facing an indefinite wait for business to return to normal. Concerns are also growing about delays in accessing emergency funds from the govern­ment.

Gig economy workers are also facing uncertainty, with no clarity on how measures apply to them.

The Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB), which represents gig economy workers, said they are suing the Government over the failure to protect the millions of workers during the pandemic, as well as its failure to ensure the health and safety of those still employed through proper sick pay.

IWGB general secretary Dr Jason Moyer-Lee said: “No one wants to be litigating right now. But we also can’t stand by and watch our members being driven into financial destitution because the government has simply forgotten about them.

“The low-paid, precarious workers must have the means to follow public health advice and continue to pay their bills and put food on the table. Right now, they don’t.”

Islington Council leader Richard Watts said: “It’s an immensely tough time for businesses.

“My heart goes out to a lot of people whose jobs are at risk or who have invested in a business and it’s now struggling because of this crisis, and so communi­cation to business is an now urgent priority to make sure businesses are taking sensible decisions not to sack people, and to try and understand the level of support that is there.”


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