City leaders want ‘Business Cobra’ set up to help region’s firms

Leaders from across Liverpool are calling for a ‘Business Cobra’ to be created, to help firms tackle challenges brought about by the coronavirus outbreak.

Four individuals heading up some of the city region’s most prominent groups representing business have issued a joint call for the formation of a government-style emergency group to convene to help fight the impact the deadly virus is having on the economy.

It’s being led by Downtown in Business chief executive, Frank McKenna, the head of the Business Improvement District and the chair of Liverpool Visitor Economy board, Bill Addy, Phil McCabe of the Federation of Small Business, and the chair of the Liverpool Hospitality Association, Marcus Magee.

Also on Monday, Wirral Chamber of Commerce announced it was to launch a ‘Coronavirus Business Helpline’ to support firms and communities.

In terms of the call for a ‘Business Cobra’, organisations said they wanted “urgent and coordinated action” from the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), the Liverpool City Region combined authority and Liverpool Council, as well as business organisations from across the region.

The statement said: “We are asking the powers that be to try and get ahead of what is becoming a critical situation for many of our businesses.

“The key issues that business needs support, advice and help with are professional guidance around staffing issues, cash flow planning and recovery plan strategy.

Bill Addy, who runs Liverpool’s business improvement district. Photo by James Maloney

“In particular we would like to see direct and meaningful dialogue opened up with banks and financial institutions to monitor how they are implementing the business support measure announced in the budget last week at a local level; what plans local authorities may have around business rates; what flexibility there is to more effectively utilize the Combined Authority’s SIF funding; what can be done to support those sectors that are already in crisis in the hospitality and retail sectors.

“We appreciate that in terms of cash and resources the public sector is not in a position to be throwing money at this problem.

Frank McKenna

“Nonetheless, there is a need for us to pull together through a private and public sector partnership to ensure that we are doing the maximum possible to mitigate against the worst effects of a global crisis that could turn into a local catastrophe for many businesses.

“We would also want to bring together a powerful body of people who can begin to argue for even greater assistance from government.”

The business leaders have written to all other business groups from across the city region seeking their support and co-operation and they have contacted the city and city region mayors offices asking for an urgent meeting of those organisations, the Local Enterprise Partnership and representatives from the banks.

The leaders have demanded that the following five things happen:

  • An urgent deferral of business rates and VAT payments for businesses, regardless of their size
  • Adaption of Universal Credit by contributing to wage payments for those whose services are not needed in the short-term to support retention of employees
  • A further cut to the rate of NICs for one-year
  • Allow businesses to use the apprenticeships levy cost to contribute towards salary costs rather than just training
  • Flexibility and less bureaucracy around local, regional and national access to finance and business support funding to help with cash flow.

The statement continued: “We are sure that this list is not exhaustive and many of our colleagues will have their own ideas as to how we can get through this crisis.

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“That is why we want to get a practical, action orientated group in place to give our business community the support it desperately needs as quickly as possible.”

When contacted for a comment by BusinessLive, Asif Hamid, chair of the LEP, said: “It is essential at this challenging time that all of the City Region’s organisations work together to support our business community and residents.

“To that end, working with business support organisations, we have today published a dedicated section of the Growth Platform website with the latest information for business relating to COVID-19, and are contacting over 10,000 local businesses to generate detailed intelligence on the range of businesses impacted and the scale and nature of that impact to inform local support and further asks of Government.

The River Mersey and the Liverpool skyline
(Image: Colin Lane)

“We know already that many businesses in our retail and visitor economy are severely affected so it is vital that we get the support activated as soon as practically possible and we are working with partners to press Government to make the support announced for business in the budget available without delay.”

Steve Rotheram, Metro Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, said: “When faced with difficult times, it is important that we set aside party political and other differences and work together to ensure we effectively respond to this unprecedented challenge.

“The Combined Authority is working together with organisations from across our city region – businesses, charities, local authorities and voluntary organisations – to help understand the needs of our communities and shape our response as the situation develops.

“In the meantime, I would urge everybody to take the necessary steps to safeguard themselves and others by regularly washing your hands, only buying what your household needs in shops and taking action to quarantine yourself should you display any symptoms.

“We are closely monitoring the situation to ensure that our services are well-prepared and will provide updates as things change.

“I will continue to work with Merseyside Resilience Forum, which draws together partners from the emergency services, local councils, Public Health England and a host of other key organisations. I am also keen to work with colleagues in neighbouring Cheshire to ensure that there is an effective joined-up approach across our entire region.

Liverpool Combined Authority Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram

“I will also be lobbying government to provide whatever support our public services tell us that they need to help manage things locally.

“Our region is famed for its community spirit, its kindness and generosity, and its collective solidarity. As we coordinate our response to COVID-19, those values will be needed.

“Right now our priority is ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our residents – but we can’t do that without your help.”

As well as that, Wirral Chamber of Commerce also announced on Monday it was launching a ‘Coronavirus Business Helpline’.

A spokesman for the body said it was working closely with partners to ensure the borough’s businesses and communities are prepared for any potential impact.

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Liverpool City Region Business News

Liverpool Council has also set up an online portal and “dedicated social media feeds” related to coronavirus for the city’s residents.

The Wirral Chamber said it would continue to monitor the potential impact on the local economy and encourage businesses to “keep us updated with any issues”.

Paula Basnett, CEO, said: “We are allocating a significant resource to our response to the coronavirus impact to ensure businesses and communities have the local support they need.

Paula Basnett from the Wirral Chamber of Commerce
(Image: Christian Smith 2017)

“We have created a COVID-19 Business Resilience Team led by one of our Directors, Warren Ward to work in partnership with Wirral Borough Council and Public Health.

“Our priority is to ensure that we can support as many businesses and organisations as we can through this very difficult time.

“This service is open to all businesses and community organisations.”

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