Support for small business owners

Essex County Council (ECC) has agreed to give more support to help “one man bands” grow as part of the county’s response in tackling the economic hurt caused by COVID-19.

Unemployment in Essex remains at its highest level for almost 30 years, following an unprecedented surge, with the claimant count for August of 71,290 still at its highest since the 1990s recession – up from around 30,000 from the period immediately before the virus hit.

The council estimates 108,000 Essex residents – amounting to around 22 per cent – are receiving support through the job retention scheme, but this is being tapered off and as the number of people receiving support falls, unemployment is likely to increase.

There is variation in the levels of support – in Brentwood ECC estimates that one in every five workers is currently unemployed or furloughed, while in Harlow this rises to almost one in three.

Unemployment is also disproportionately impacting young people aged 16 to 24, with 12.4 per cent of the under 25 workforce having made a jobseekers claim, compared to nine per cent of the 25 to 34s, 6.9 per cent of the 35 to 49s, and 5.3 per cent of the over 50s in July 2020.

Essex is now starting to see these impacts at an economic level, with dramatic reductions in GDP and record falls in national output for production and services reported between March and July 2020.

“The current cycle of restrictions being imposed and eased means that the economic future for Essex is hard to predict, but sectors that are key to the Essex economy, especially in coastal communities, have been and continue to be significantly impacted,” a report to councillors on the place services committee said.

As a response to these challenges, the council’s Economic Recovery Programme will spend £2.8million on initiatives including direct support for business, enabling residents to access work, regeneration and housing growth and digital connectivity.

But it is the role of small businesses that Cllr David Kendall, a small business owner himself, said could provide important impetus to the recovery.

He said: “These small businesses are fundamental to the Essex economy.

“A lot are single owner operators. If they can go from one to two people it will make a massive difference to our Essex economy.

“The problem going from one to two as a limited company, as a small business, is it’s very difficult.

“There are lots of practical issues involved.

“I think if you are going to target help at small businesses, giving people help and advice on that issue will be very helpful.

“If we can get more people who are operating as one man bands to operate as two people bands we could get some of that unemployment down quite quickly.

“Particularly among young people.”

Andy Burgess, head of economic development at ECC, said: “It would be a reasonable thing for us to have a bit of support there for the one man bands to help them do that and grow and develop businesses and work closely with business.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter