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Coronavirus (COVID-19): Business briefing – 4 May 2020

£600 million top-up to local business grant funds scheme
A discretionary fund has been set up by government to support small businesses previously outside the scope of the business grant funds scheme.

The Business Secretary Alok Sharma and Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government, Simon Clarke spoke to local authorities in England on Friday to set out that up to £617 million would be made available.

This additional fund (click here) is aimed at small businesses with ongoing fixed property-related costs and local authorities will be asked to prioritise businesses in shared spaces, regular market traders, small charity properties and bed and breakfasts that pay council tax rather than business rates. But allocation of funding will be at the discretion of local authorities.

Businesses must be small, under 50 employees, and they must also be able to demonstrate that they have seen a significant drop of income due to Coronavirus restriction measures.

There will be three levels of grant payments. The maximum will be £25,000. There will also be grants of £10,000. local authorities will have discretion to make payments of any amount under £10,000. It will be for councils to adapt this approach to local circumstances.

COVID-19 tracking app starts live trials
The tracking app which forms the key final part of the government’s Test, Track and Trace strategy for emerging from the COVID-19 lockdown will go into live trials on the Isle of Wight tomorrow (5 May).

Speaking at today’s Downing Street press conference Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed that, now testing capacity had been increased and an ‘army of contact tracers’ was being built, the government was focusing on the tracking app.

From Tuesday, health professionals on the Isle of Wight would receive the app, and it would be rolled out to all of the island’s 80,000 citizens from Thursday.

“This is at the forefront of helping get Britain back on her feet,” Mr Hancock said. “Where the Isle of Wight leads, Britain will follow.”

However, the Health Secretary emphasised that the latest step was ‘not the end of social distancing’, which would only happen once the government’s five tests had been met.

Bounce Back loans launched today
Britain’s small businesses are able to apply for the new quick and easy-to access ‘Bounce Back’ loans of up to £50,000 from today – with the cash expected to land within days.

Thousands of small firms and sole traders – including high street staples like hairdressers, coffee shops and florists – are expected to be eligible for 100% government-backed Bounce Back Loans to help them make it through the coronavirus outbreak.

From 9am this morning, small business owners could apply to accredited lenders by filling out a simple online form, with only seven questions.

The government has also agreed with lenders that an affordable flat rate of 2.5% interest will be charged on these loans. And any business that has already taken out a Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan of £50,000 or less can apply to have these switched over to this generous new scheme.

New export webinars to boost support for SMEs during COVID-19
The Department for International Trade to host a series of coronavirus webinars, free for SMEs across the UK.

The webinars will offer practical advice to SMEs and focus on issues businesses trading internationally are facing. Many webinars will be hosted by an International Trade Adviser and include question and answer sessions, while others will feature guest speakers from business and industry. Topics covered will range from managing distribution of supply chains and the movement of goods, to support for selling online overseas.

Business can register via great.gov.uk (click here) where all recorded webinars are hosted. DIT is also working with partners to take the usual schedule of events online. There is also significant programme of webinars from other government departments, including HM Revenue and Customs and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, listed here.

Government support package for universities and students
New measures to protect students and universities, including temporary student number controls, have been announced by the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson today, answering sector calls on the COVID-19 response.

Through the plans, English higher education providers will be able to recruit full-time undergraduate UK and EU students for 2020/21 up to a temporary set level, which is based on their forecasts for the next academic year, plus an additional 5%.

The Government will also have the discretion to allocate an additional 10,000 places, with 5,000 ring-fenced for nursing, midwifery or allied health courses to support the country’s vital public services.

Students will also benefit from a new proactive and personalised UCAS Clearing process this summer, which will help to broaden their horizons, and funding to support those in financial hardship.

Science Minister Amanda Solloway has also announced that £100m of public funding will be brought forward to this academic year to help protect vital university research activities. On top of that, an estimated £2.6bn of tuition fee payments will be bought forward to help universities better manage financial risks over the autumn, including taking steps to improve efficiencies and manage their finances in order to avoid cash flow problems further ahead.

The Government has also confirmed that providers are eligible to apply for its support packages, including business loan support schemes, which the Office for Students (OfS) the regulator in England, estimates could be worth at least £700m to the sector.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “We are committed to supporting our world class universities and students through this unprecedented challenging time. So we are putting measures in place to help protect students and staff from the impact of coronavirus.

“I know this is an unsettling time for all involved, and we are working tirelessly with the sector to do everything we can to stabilise admissions and protect a vital part of our country’s economy and society.”

Self-employed invited to get ready to make their claims for COVID-19 support
HMRC has announced it will begin contacting customers who may be eligible for the government’s Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS).

Those who are eligible will be able to claim a taxable grant worth 80% of their average trading profits up to a maximum of £7,500 (equivalent to three months’ profits), paid in a single instalment. HMRC is also inviting customers, or their agents, to go online and check their eligibility for SEISS.

HMRC has also announced that the claims service will open on 13 May ahead of the original timetable. Those eligible will have the money paid into their bank account by 25 May, or within six working days of completing a claim.

Latest information and updates

£14 million financial support for England’s zoos unveiled
Support fund for licensed zoos and aquariums affected by coronavirus – click here.

Tax credits customers will continue to receive payments even if working fewer hours due to COVID-19
People who can’t work their normal hours because of coronavirus (COVID-19) will still receive their usual tax credits payments. Click here for more information.

Smart meter-enabled electric vehicle (EV) charging trial: Beyond Off Street
How to get involved in developing smart meter-enabled electric vehicle charging points for on-street and workplace charging. Questions and answers document updated here.

Ask a question at a coronavirus press conference
Find out how you can ask the government a question at the daily coronavirus press conference here.

Testing for all workers

Eligibility for COVID-19 testing has been expanded to all workers who have to leave their home in order to work. People can self-refer, or be referred by their employer. Details can be found here.

HMRC Webinars: online support for businesses

Managing your business during coronavirus: reporting, regulations and tax
Register to join this online webinar at 11am on Thursday 7 May to find out more about managing your business during coronavirus with guidance on reporting, regulations and tax. The webinar will cover:

  • Right to work checks 
  • Filing reports and accounts
  • Tax – Time to Pay scheme

You will have the opportunity to ask questions during the webinar. Click here to register.

Additional webinars to support your business
Government departments are hosting a series of free webinars to help businesses understand the support available including:

  • Tuesday 5 May – Financial support for small businesses during coronavirus (COVID-19). Click here to register. 
  • Wednesday 6 May – COVID-19: Impacts and changes to International Trade. Click here to register. 
  • Thursday 7 May – Managing your business during coronavirus: reporting, regulations and tax. Click here to register. 
  • Multiple dates – Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme – How to make a claim. Click here to register. 
  • Multiple dates – Coronavirus COVID-19 Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme. Click here to register.

Keep up to date with all the latest available webinars here.

Resources to support your business

South East Creatives programme
Webinars and workshops: If you are a business or sole trader in the creative, cultural or digital sector, there are a number of webinars coming up to help your business during the COVID-19 crisis from the South East Creatives’ Workshop + Mentoring Online Programme – click here. Workshops are running until the end of September.

Grants: The programme is also still offering grants for creatives across the South East. If you are sole trader or company trading in the creative, cultural or digital sector you could consider applying for a Top-up Grant. If you’re looking to spend between £3k and £4k, South East Creatives could fund 35% of your costs. Click here to find out more.

DASA (Defence And Security Accelerator)
The Defence and Security Accelerator is part of the Ministry of Defence. We provide funding to help innovators develop solutions to Defence and Security problems. At present, we have a £1m fund to support innovation related to COVID19 and have accelerated our review processes to turn proposals around rapidly. If you have a potential innovation, you can submit an outline and request a discussion with your regional Innovation Partner through our website – click here.

DASA has a wide rage of competitions and offers of funding open to businesses including COVID-19 – click here to find out more.

Government Coronavirus Business Support Hub
You can go here to find out all the latest information about what funding and support is available for your business, managing your business during coronavirus and business closures. There is also a new ‘support finder’ tool (available here) to help businesses easily determine what financial support is available to them during the coronavirus pandemic through a quick and simple online questionnaire. You can find out more about the tool here.

Government Coronavirus Business Support Whatsapp
The government has also launched a Coronavirus Information Service on WhatsApp which is now updated with business support advice. Text ‘hi’ to 07860064422 via Whatsapp and there are business support measures highlighted under option 5 with the relevant links to gov.uk pages. Click here for more information.

Government Business support helpline
Contact the government’s business support helpline for free advice

Phone: 0300 456 3565
Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm

HMRC Helpline
HMRC have online help set up to help businesses and self-employed people concerned about not being able to pay their tax due to coronavirus.

The best way to get help from HMRC on any topic is to contact them online – click here. Alternatively, you can call them on 0800 0159 559

Webinars
Government departments are hosting a series of webinars to help businesses understand the support available:

  • for topics that cover supporting and retaining staff and the self-employed, register to attend future webinars here or watch recorded sessions here
  • for international trade, register here

Coronavirus Business Support blog
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy have created the Coronavirus Business Support Blog to help business get the support they need to help with the impact of coronavirus. Click here to find out more.

Find a Job Service
If your business needs more workers as a result of COVID-19, such as those in food logistics, preparation and retail, post vacancies on Find a Job – click here.

Coronavirus support from Business Representative Organisations and Trade Associations
Business Representative Organisations and Trade Associations are providing coronavirus related  support for specific sectors. Click here to access the full list.