Confidence among British businesses has risen to a 4-year high according to a major survey that is conducted every month across 1,200 firms. The results mirror the latest employment data, which show job vacancies increasing to more than 950,000. Vacancies are a good barometer of business confidence as companies rarely expand unless they are confident in their future. Unemployment is continuing to fall and there is no evidence so far that the winding down of the furlough scheme is resulting in mass redundancies.
There are nonetheless real challenges ahead not least for businesses that are paying back loans and for small businesses that are disrupted by Covid-19 infections among their staff although these should be reduced by the changes to the self-isolation rules which no longer require double-jabbed individuals to self-isolate after being identified as a close contact. Instead, those affected should take a PCR test and only self-isolate if it comes back positive. That said, I am finding real optimism in many of the businesses that I visit locally with a high proportion back trading as they were or even better than before the pandemic.
While the furlough scheme will close at the end of September, there is still significant support available to businesses and the quickest way to establish what might be available is to visit www.gov.uk/coronavirus/business-support. You can also contact the government’s Business Support Helpline for free advice on 0800 998 1098.
For self-employed workers, the application window for the fifth grant of the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme is open until 30th September. Those eligible who have had their trading profits impacted by Covid-19 can claim up to 80% of 3 months’ trading profits (capped at £7,500). I know from the self-employed I have spoken to locally that these grants have made a big difference, particularly to those on lower incomes. Since the scheme opened, more than 5,000 self-employed workers in Central Devon have made successful claims.
Support is also available for the charitable sector, helping our cultural and heritage institutions for example, which play a vital role in our local economy. The South Devon Railway in Buckfastleigh, which I visited last week, has benefited significantly from funding through the Culture Recovery Fund – part of the Government’s £1.57 billion rescue package to safeguard our important cultural and heritage organisations. I was very pleased to see trains running again (tickets are available at www.southdevonrailway.co.uk).
With our economic recovery underway, the focus of the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee, which I chair, is shifting from the pandemic to a range of other important issues. The committee has carried out a lot of work on climate change and recently I pressed our major high street banks regarding local branch closures, particularly in communities which just have one bank left. I have also urged the PM to use the Online Safety Bill to tackle fraud committed through paid-for advertising. More information about the TSC can be found at www.melstridemp.com/parliament.