COVID-19 – North Wales Community Business Report

8th April 2020

Dear Members and Supporters,

Re: COVID-19 – North Wales Community Business Report

On behalf of the DBF, I would like to take this opportunity to express our best wishes and swift recovery to our Prime Minster. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family.

The country is going through a massive crisis. Job losses and bankruptcies are at a record high. However, communities and volunteers are showing amazing generosity through delivering food and prescriptions and helping the most vulnerable within their communities. The DBF is working hard to extend this remarkable community spirit to North Wales businesses. Business communities are strong, resilient and battle-hardened. This is not the first time we have been faced with economic and social crisis. History has demonstrated that our communities will fight this head-on and come through it stronger.

Over the past couple of weeks, we have received some very distressing emails from businesses in North Wales. Our home-grown entrepreneurs, who have built successful enterprises and created many jobs within our communities for decades, are at risk of losing them all. They are desperate. They are angry. They feel they are misled with promises of imminent support and rescue packages.

The UK Government has shown fantastic generosity. The help through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and business rates relief is working well for some sectors and is proving to be effective. Unfortunately, the CBILS Loan Scheme has proven to be a total disaster. According to the Government’s own statistics (published last Friday 3rd April), the Banks have received 130,000 applications but less than 1% have been approved. According to all the calls and emails we are receiving, the Banks are extremely busy in forensically scrutinising every application to demonstrate that the applicants are not viable or, if viable, will be unable to service the loan. A very convenient tactic to reject the applications and therefore push the businesses into bankruptcies and mitigate the 20% of the risk they are supposed to undertake.

We challenge the banks to publish how many CBILS applications they have received, how many they have approved, and how many they have refused. The nation has the right to know this statistic.

I am afraid to say, rightly or wrongly, there is sadly a very negative and feeling towards the Banks from the North Wales business communities. However, most businesses we asked praised their relationship managers and the front-line employees of the Banks as being very sympathetic but powerless to help. After the crisis is over, we need to re-examine the financial sector very carefully. Are these old-fashioned, outdated, big banks, endowed with huge unhealthy power and influence, fit for a modern 21st century economy? As one of our members said:

“These large banks almost managed to bankrupt the country in 2008 and are now busy in bankrupting the SME businesses”.

On a positive note, some of the smaller financial institutions have proven to be more supportive and agile and ready to adopt and change according to the circumstances.

Welsh Government – Economic Resilience Fund
We are very fortunate to have the Welsh Government. The Minister responsible for the Economy, Ken Skates AM, lives within our community. He is one of us. He shares our pain and responds swiftly. Welsh Government’s recently announced ½ billion Economic Resilience Fund is a great help. All the details of how to apply will be published next week. I encourage all of our businesses in North Wales in need of help to apply as soon as possible. Please let us know if you need any help. DBF has built an excellent partnership with Welsh Government senior officials. They are working non-stop, seven days a week, to help our businesses.

North Wales Members of Parliament
We have fantastic Members of Parliament in North Wales. We call on all of our MPs, regardless of their political differences, to act as a united force to relay our concerns to the UK Government. Please let the Chancellor know what is happening on the ground in North Wales. Please let the Chancellor know that the CBILS Loan Scheme is not being delivered and will not be getting through to the businesses. The UK Government must act with absolute urgency to fix the delivery of the loan and remove the obstacles. SMEs in North Wales are mostly community businesses, the owners live within our communities. They have a big stake in the wellbeing of North Wales. Please do not let them down.

Formation of an Expert Business Advisory Team
The DBF is launching a Professional Advisory Team. We are looking for lawyers, accountants, business advisors, and former bankers to volunteer to join this team. The DBF coordinator will allocate enquiries to a team member to assist businesses. The advisor will help the individuals and, if necessary, will refer them to further support from Business Wales and the Welsh Government. Volunteers are not supposed to promote their firms or try to sell any services. The advice will be totally independent and will carry no liability. DBF will publicly acknowledge the firms and the individuals who have volunteered their services free of charge to our business communities in North Wales. Could all of the interested firms or individuals email their details and area of expertise to me as soon as possible? We are hoping to launch the advisory team next week.

Request for PPE Donations for our Care Workers
Flintshire County Council is in urgent need of Personal Protective Equipment for care workers. If you possess any PPE and would like to donate them to the care workers it would be greatly appreciated. Please let us know and we will advise you of the location where they can be dropped, or we may be able to arrange collection.

Lord Barry Jones PC
Our president, Lord Barry Jones PC, is constantly monitoring the situation and is in contact with me on a regular basis to make sure the voices of our well-deserved businesses are heard loud and clear. He is very concerned about the impact of Covid-19 on our communities, businesses, employees and economy. He wishes you best through this difficult time.

Finally, please share your stories with us and keep letting us know of any issues you have. We will work with the UK and Welsh governments and our MPs and AMs to highlight difficulties you are facing.

Best wishes,
Askar Sheibani, Chair – DBF