'Let's hope it's a good one, without any fear'

Michael Scott


Michael Scott



THIS is our monthly small business column from the regional chair of FSB (Federation of Small Businesses) Northern Ireland, Brendan Kearney

Brendan has been self-employed for the last 44 years mainly across the catering industry. For the past seven years he has led a private medical insurance brokerage and currently employs 14 people. Brendan has been involved with the FSB over the last 20 plus years at various levels between branch, policy and regional levels within the organisation

The lyrics of John Lennon have brought inspiration to many over the decades and safe to say, everyone’s hopes for the New Year are that 2021 will be a far cry from the challenges and difficulties we have faced in our homes, our communities and our businesses in 2020.

Since I last wrote, the so-called “circuit breaker” became extended in length and widened, with more businesses having to cease trade in what is usually the busiest and most fruitful time of the year.

It came as a surprising blow, particularly to the hospitality and close contact businesses who were allowed to open for one week from November 20, and for the so-called ‘non-essential retail’ businesses who found themselves included in the basket of restrictions once again.

Once again it was an eleventh (verging on twelfth) hour decision by the Executive with a number of business having purchased stock and rostered staff in the belief that they were fully reopening. We have heard the phrase used in media that “business is not the villain” and this is true.

No small business here wants to be contributing to the transmission of the Covid-19 virus, the devastating deaths from the virus or the severe pressures on the NHS. This is why we have invested so much time, effort and money into ensuring that we can do business safely and provide a risk-free environment for our staff and customers. The angers and frustrations felt by small businesses because of the decisions made around closure are the result of a number of factors.

We have the situation that a number of FSB members and other small businesses have not received a penny of the support they were counting on to see them through this period of closure. While there was a welcome extension to the enhanced furlough scheme – businesses have still had to cover staff wages until they can reclaim that money through the scheme and of course cover National Insurance and Pension contributions out of their pocket.

Overheads such as heat, light and power may have slightly reduced with premises closed up but rent and other supplier and utility costs will still have rolled in – so it is incredibly unfair that it has taken so long to get the financial packages out.

This second wave was neither a surprise or something new, so I really question why the mechanisms were not firmly in place by the departments to ensure a quick and easy roll out of support this time around.

So that is where we stand from a fairly negative viewpoint, but what can we do about it? We can complain – but who will listen? We can give up – but who will that hurt in the long run? We can pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and difficult though it may be, we can live up to the reputation that small business has – one of resilience, innovation and determination. So what do we need to do?

Out first step is to make sure we have applied for the support we are entitled to – look at the www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk to read about the eligibility and process of claiming from the Localised Restriction Support Scheme or Covid Restrictions Business Support Scheme. Our second step is to prepare for reopening with hopes pinned on the 11th of December. You can do this by visiting the FSB Coronavirus Hub www.fsb.org.uk/covid19 that has a wealth of resources from checklists to risk assessments to signage.

A number of local councils have support funds for businesses to enhance their health & safety measures so please take a look at the assistance provided. Finally, get involved in various campaigns and make your business visible during the reopen. The general public are buying into the idea of supporting small businesses within their communities, we can see that on social media posts across a number of platforms.

We understand that some businesses do not have the resources to get their business fully online but there are opportunities in free social media platforms, in some local council grants and training and on a new website www.supportlocalni.com that we recently featured in one of our online support events. It is important to note that the Executive has said that customers pre-ordering by phone or text also is permitted as ‘Click and Collect’ even if your premises can’t be open to customers, so don’t let the lack of a website stop you from continuing to trade in some form.

Covid-19 has really dominated the day-to-day and short term strategising of businesses in 2020, but we do need to focus on the fact that we are now in the last month before the end of the Brexit transition period. For many businesses, there seems to be an attitude that there will be no impact on them because of perhaps the nature of their business or customers. We implore that you do not leave this to chance. You are busy of course in recouping the losses throughout the year but it really is necessary to take the time to do some planning and scenario forecasting.

Do you know what your supply chain is and if there are potential issues in costs and time delays post December 31st? If you move goods beyond Northern Ireland or receive goods in – what are the implications? Have you signed up to the Trader Support Service https://www.tradersupportservice.co.uk/ if you move goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland? Does any of your staff need to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme?

If you are unsure about what preparations you should be making we would suggest you have a look at NI Business Info’s ten-step checklist: www.nibusiness

There are so many considerations and at FSB Northern Ireland we want to make sure that small businesses have awareness and take action. We recently held a webinar around these issues and suggest that you watch the recording of this found on our twitter (@FSBNIRegion) or facebook page (@FSB.Northern.Ireland). This is a serious time for business – there is information and support available but you must take ownership and arm yourself with this information and support.

We know that business owners are tired, it has been the most challenging of years but we must dig deep and approach 2021 with a positive attitude and without any fear. I wish you well over the coming weeks and a healthy and more positive new year ahead.

Please feel free to contact us with topics you would like this column to cover or for general feedback on the small business issues FSB Northern Ireland should be working on by emailing Brendan.Kearney@fsb.org.uk or contacting your local Development Manager Roisin.McAliskey@fsb.org.uk. The special Covid Hub on www.fsb.org.uk has relevant resources and information available for all small businesses and the self-employed. Our members have full access to the legal hub and 24/7 employment & legal helpline for guidance and advice.

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