What do the new restrictions mean for small businesses?

With stricter coronavirus rules coming to England, including closing pubs and restaurants at 10pm and fines for premises flouting safety measures, how has the small business community reacted?

Last updated: 23 Sep 2020 4 min read

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New coronavirus restrictions announced by the prime minister on Tuesday 22 September mean further adaptations are required for small businesses in England to comply with the laws surrounding the containment of the virus. Boris Johnson said the new measures were “robust but proportionate” to help the country navigate what he described as a “perilous turning point”, and would likely be in place for the next six months.

New restrictions for hospitality businesses

From Thursday 24 September, businesses selling food and drink, including all pubs, bars, restaurants and licensed cafes, must operate table service only – and are required to close between 10pm and 5am. This includes takeaways, though delivery services can continue after 10pm.

Mike Cherry, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, warned that an “ambitious second round of support measures” would be needed from government to help small businesses survive, particularly in light of the imminent closure of the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme in October and the Bounce Back Loan Scheme in November. “While it’s encouraging to see the government striking a balance between protecting public health and protecting the economy, this fresh round of restrictions will cause significant disruption for thousands of small firms,” he said.

Stricter policing and fines introduced

Also from 24 September, customers in hospitality venues will be required to wear face coverings other than when eating or drinking. Staff in hospitality and retail will also be required to wear face coverings, with failure to do so resulting in potential fines or closure of the business. From 23 September, all taxi and minicab passengers must also wear masks.

Businesses will face stricter rules to make their premises coronavirus secure from 28 September, with fines of up to £10,000 for businesses that repeatedly breach the rules and fines for first-time breaches raised to £200.

“While encouraging to see the government striking a balance between protecting public health and the economy, this fresh round of restrictions will cause significant disruption for thousands of small firms” Mike Cherry, national chairman, Federation of Small Businesses

The government has announced an initial £60m to boost enforcement by the police and local authorities, with additional support from the military tabled as a possibility. Enterprise Nation founder Emma Jones said that introducing fines and restrictions on businesses that were just beginning to find their feet might be “a step too far”, adding she expected the government would need to make “swift announcements on how it proposes to support the companies affected, not just financially, but with advice to ensure they can remain resilient and compliant”.

Work from home advice reinstated

Though government had recently embarked on a campaign to encourage workers back into offices, partly in a bid to revive trade for businesses in town and city centres, this directive has now been reversed. Office workers are once again being asked to work from home if they can. For industries such as construction and hospitality, where working from home is not possible, staff are still encouraged to attend their workplaces while adhering to coronavirus guidelines. Ensuring that schools and universities stay open is a top priority, said Johnson.

Weddings, sports and conferences affected

From 24 September indoor organised sports will no longer be exempt from the rule of six, while plans to trial live audiences for sports and other events have been shelved. The reopening of business conferences, planned for 1 October, has also been postponed.

Weddings and civil partnership ceremonies and receptions have been reduced from a maximum of 30 people down to 15, with all other “life events” (barring funerals) still subject to the rule of six from 28 September. Support groups must also be limited to a maximum of 15 people from 24 September. 

New government support on the cards?

Earlier this week, the Financial Times reported that chancellor Rishi Sunak was set to extend the UK’s emergency coronavirus support schemes until the end of November. Sources now say that Sunak is drawing up a broader set of new stimulus plans, which could include an extension to the furlough scheme in line with Germany’s short-time work programme. This would see government top up the salaries of those only able to work part time due to coronavirus.

For a full breakdown of new government advice for England, visit GOV.UK.

For more business advice relating to coronavirus, visit our coronavirus insights hub.

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