Business community calls for immediate clarification on potential new restrictions – evolved strategy for living with Covid-19 urgently required

Oct 5, 2020

This morning (5 October 2020) Chambers Ireland expresses concern at new advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team that the entire country should move to Level 5.

Speaking this morning, Chambers Ireland Chief Executive Ian Talbot said,

“This latest announcement will come as a shock to businesses and local economies throughout the country, who have been doing their best to adjust to the new reality of living alongside the threat of Covid-19.

Our members have many questions regarding the new advice. How has it arisen that only a few weeks after the publication of the “Living with COVID” strategy, we now find ourselves in a situation where we are jumping multiple levels overnight?

The goal of the Roadmap, as we had understood it, was to give society as well as the business community, a clearer idea of how Government would respond to a rise, or indeed a decrease in cases. The message from NPHET, and the lack of communication from Government, is causing a significant amount of concern.

We understand the challenges of managing Covid-19, and as a representative body, we aim to support Government in addressing this crisis. However, in the absence of clarity and data on the spread of the virus and the capacity of the system, we are unable to provide information to our members, and ensure that the required solidarity and compliance will be in place.

Government must also improve the process of communication between NPHET, Cabinet, and the Covid-19 Oversight Committee, to ensure the public, especially the business community, is receiving clear information and guidance. 

The current approach of regularly introducing new restrictions is not sustainable in the long-term. And so, Government must rapidly evolve its thinking in how it plans to suppress the virus while living alongside it. The medical and scientific advice tells us that the best way to manage the latest outbreak is to effectively lock down most of society, flatten the curve and reduce the worst impacts of the virus by protecting people and saving lives. 

Our question to Government is that if a new lockdown is necessary, what will follow? How will the strategy for living alongside the virus be altered so that we do not find ourselves in a new wave of restrictions and closures every time we ease measures?

The State’s highest priority at present needs to be assigning sufficient resources to our hospital capacity and ensure that contact tracing and testing becomes effective at limiting the spread of this disease. It is only with better enforcement and intelligence that public health officials will be able to track the virus and stop it spreading. The alternative will be repeated local restrictions across the country, the costs of which will be devastating to the economy. We must endeavour to do all that we can to avoid such an outcome.

The long-term impact of the repeated introduction of new restrictions cannot be under-stated, Businesses have been devastated over the past 6 months, with many now facing much reduced liquidity, and much higher debts.

The reimposition of restrictions be they Level Three, Four or Five, must be accompanied with a targeted package of financial supports for the businesses and employees impacted. At this point, we have no clarity from Government what financial supports they intend to make available to businesses across the country to support them.

This must be clarified urgently and must include wage supports, grants and other liquidity supports. Forbearance and flexibility from State agencies, banks and landlords must also continue to play a significant role in how we support the business community and our wider society. It is in nobody’s interest to see liquidations, business closures and increased vacancies in towns and cities throughout the country.

We re-iterate our message that the risk of under-reacting is much greater than over-reacting. Government must use every available resource to tackle the spread of the virus and support local economies to withstand the impact. We call for information and clarity from coalition leaders immediately.”

 

-ENDS- 

For further information contact Gabriel Doran, Communications and Media Executive on gabriel.doran@chambers.ie
or phone 01 400 4331, 086 608 1605

Further Notes

Liquidity issues and growing debt overhangs

Even before the most recent wave of restrictions occurred businesses of every kind were experiencing tremendous challenges. Our most recent survey (published 24 September) found that mounting debts are continuing to affect businesses. Low levels of business activity and revenue have reduced the margin for many businesses and many firms are having difficulty receiving payments from clients and customers.

While the sector businesses are operating in has a strong effect on their revenue, the debt profile and the capacity of individual firms to meet their debt obligations is idiosyncratic, suggesting that a case-by-case approach will be more effective in sustaining individual businesses.

  • Micro/Small/Medium-sized businesses are currently experiencing revenues which are 30% below what would be typical (Micro: -36%, Small: -36%, Medium: -33%)
  • Only 5% of firms are still completely closed, those still closed are typically smaller businesses and expect to remain closed for a considerable period (average of those still closed >20 weeks)
  • Microenterprises and Sole Traders are experiencing the lowest levels of business activity, at -42% and -33% respectively

The broad effect on the overall economy and the profound sectoral level impacts emphasise the common interest of both landlords and tenants when it comes to meeting the challenge of Covid-19.

Where, over the coming months, businesses become unsustainable it is likely that examinership will become necessary for those firms, with a potentially devastating impact on those for whom they were a tenant.

Should this occur to a great extent it is likely to lead to a rapid increase in vacancies which will further depress the commercial rental market.

  • Sectors affected most by social distancing have suffered disproportionate reductions in revenue (Hospitality: -56%, Education: -67%, Entertainment: -65%, Real Estate: -40%, Transportation: -47%)

 

Debt Serviceability

  • Debt serviceability will be a significant problem over the coming 12 months, more than half of all respondents will only be able to service 80% of their debt obligations over the next year
  • The overall average amount of debt that is serviceable is only 66%, which suggests that a minority of businesses will be able to service very little of their debt, though smaller firms are more vulnerable
  • Large within sector variation in the capacity to service debts means that accessing which firms can or cannot meet their obligation will need determination on a case by case basis

Invoices

  • 47% of businesses which issue invoices are having difficulty receiving payment from clients, with microenterprises and small businesses disproportionately affected
  • The proportion of outstanding invoices which are beyond 90-days-due continues to grow (over 43% of invoices where the terms have been breached are beyond 90-days-due)
  • Businesses only expect between 52-67% of their outstanding invoices to be honours in the coming quarter
  • Smaller firms are more likely to be used as lines of credit by their customers
  • While there is strong variation across sectors, within sector variation is minimal

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