Businesses are facing a “tidal wave of worry”, and some will struggle to get through the winter without extra Government help.
By Annette McIntyre
This is the view of Bradford BID Manager Jonny Noble who is warning that more needs to be done to help businesses survive the financial pressures facing the country.
Bradford BID was one of many organisations to back the #BusinessSOS campaign, founded by organisations representing over 150,000 retail, leisure, hospitality and tourism businesses. The campaign warned that the energy crisis could inflict irreversible damage on UK high streets.
Speaking out in early September, campaigners said mass closures and redundancies were inevitable if the Government did not swiftly implement measures to alleviate the critical pressures that businesses, like households, have been facing since April 2022.
The campaign group called for VAT to be slashed, with the headline rate reduced from 20% to 12.5% and business energy bills cut from 20% to 5% to match domestic billing.
It also urged 100% business rate relief until March 31, 2023 and a discounted kwh price on all business energy bills.
Jonny Noble, manager of Bradford Business Improvement District, was one of those warning that soaring energy costs and the highest inflation for decades were having a huge effect on local businesses. He said without urgent help many businesses would go to the wall.
Speaking after the “mini-budget” and amid the financial turmoil it provoked Mr Noble said: “The main concerns for many businesses most recently is the double whammy of the rising cost of living having an impact on people’s disposable income coupled with the rising energy costs to businesses. There is as well of course the ongoing war in Ukraine driving up supply and fuel costs.
“Some of the assistance given by Government such as the cap on energy prices is very welcomed but there is still uncertainty surrounding what this will look like during the winter months when usage will increase substantially. The removal of the National Insurance increase will also help people but this could still be easily eaten up in increasing household bills and interest rates.”
“A couple of the interventions are very welcome, however we have all seen the impact on the value and stability of the pound, the mortgage rates increase and subsequently the Bank of England needing to aid in steadying the markets following the announcements. We are waiting with bated breath for the details in the upcoming statement, with hospitality businesses particularly interested due to the energy costs associated with running their businesses.”
He said the hospitality and leisure sectors were going to have a tough few months unless there was more business support directed towards them over winter.
“Their customers have choices to make regarding any disposable income they have and unfortunately paying the essential bills will have to take priority over a nice meal out or an overnight stay in a hotel,” he said.
“There is one example of a much loved city centre independent that had to close recently due to their electricity bill – and this was before the most recent increase. These independents do not have the ‘cushion’ of support that many nationals do, so every penny in the till literally counts.”
Mr Noble said the pandemic was probably the most difficult period for businesses in living memory and Bradford was hit like all towns and cities in the UK and further afield. Most survived with the help of measures such as business grants and business rates relief – but they were now facing “another tidal wave of worry”.
“Without additional support from Government, some of the businesses that managed to get through the pandemic may not do the same this winter,” he said.
“Another area that we are still battling is getting footfall back to pre-pandemic levels. Bradford is actually faring better than many city centres but we are unlikely to see 2019 numbers again due to the establishment of hybrid working and less people working in offices in the city centre. This is probably here to stay, so we need to accept this and look at other ways to increase that footfall such as the amazing events that Bradford BID deliver.
Mr Noble said they were still campaigning on behalf of businesses for a continuation of 100% Business Rates relief until March 2023 and also a cut to VAT for the hospitality sector, which has probably been hardest hit. “With the removal of the National Insurance increase in November and the cut to the basic rate of income tax coming into force next year, we have seen some positive interventions but there is still huge uncertainty for businesses and this revolves around energy costs, worries about an unstable or weakened pound, reduction in people’s disposable income and an increase in the cost of goods and services provided to the sector, it is no wonder there is such worry,” he said.
Although Bradford is similar to many northern cities Mr Noble said one difference was that it does not have the same number of large city centre office blocks as places like Manchester, Leeds or Liverpool.
“This means we have less of a gap to make up in lost footfall from the office sector,” he said. “Lots of the convenience businesses in the other cities we mention are there to service the office sector and they cannot survive without that footfall from the office workers. We do not have such a huge issue, but we do have a desire for more people to return to work in the city centre. We fully understand the hybrid working model works for lots of businesses and support the work life balance, however we do still want more office workers in the city centre to boost that footfall.”
Bradford BID is driving a number of initiatives to help its members – which in turn will also benefit non-members.
Mr Noble said: “We are delivering a number of high profile events, which will drive huge footfall into the city centre, such as the ever popular fireworks display, the Super Soapbox Challenge, Dino Day and other events aimed at encouraging one off and repeat visits and associated spend.
“We have the Bradford city centre gift card, with well over 100 city centre businesses accepting it and which is designed to increase direct spend in the city centre rather than the money going to the ‘online’ giants. We are continuing with interventions that improve the look and feel of the city centre, such as our hanging basket displays each summer, the hot washing and chewing gum removal around the public realm, days of action on grot spots and also our hugely popular Bradford at Night campaign, aimed at supporting the evening and night time economy in a time of great need.
“Bradford BID are absolutely committed to improving the environment for businesses and visitors to the city centre. With the huge projects due for delivery in 2023, such as Bradford Live, Darley Street Market, No 1 City Park, plus the Transforming Cities Programme and public realm improvements to the ‘Top of Town’ leading up to the City of Culture year in 2025 – things are really exciting and we cannot wait to be part of it.”