Published: 10:58, 22 June 2020
| Updated: 11:00, 22 June 2020
A helpline set up to support companies across Kent and Medway during the pandemic has exposed the significance cost of the lockdown.
The free Covid-19 Business Helpline went live on March 25, just as lockdown restrictions were introduced.
It is provided by the Kent and Medway Growth Hub, a support service delivered by Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce on behalf of Kent County Council (KCC) and the South East Local Enterprise Partnership and has helped more than 9,000 firms since its launch.
Since peaking with more than 350 businesses calling or web chatting the service every day, a further 2,865 intensive one-to-one web sessions have also been undertaken by a team of eight business advisers.
The team surveyed the firms it had helped and found 94.2% of respondents had experienced a negative impact on their business as a result of Covid-19. This compared to only 0.8% believing Covid-19 had had a positive impact, with the remaining 4.9% feeling it had had no impact or not answering the question.
Jo James, chief executive of Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce, added: “This snapshot clearly shows the Covid-19 crisis has hit our economy hard.
“The survey also suggests more than 70% of businesses have used the furlough system, with 25% working normally or from home.
“Thankfully only 2% reported job losses to date. However, worryingly, nearly 90% of firms reported future sales were going to be hit, with a combined loss of £52m, or an average of £33,500 per company surveyed.
“There will be many now considering how to avoid making redundancies and we need to look at how we can continue to support our local businesses and help them restart.”
Cllr Mike Whiting, KCC’s cabinet member for economic development, said: “This helpline has been one of the stand-out local initiatives to support Kent businesses through this crisis, alongside the government’s furlough and business rates support grants.
“The feedback from the helpline highlights the scale of the challenge we all now face as we restart the economy and strive to rebuild and recover.”
The 1,436 businesses who provided financial figures to the survey reported a cumulative monthly loss of more than £55million - equivalent to £38,864 for each business.
In stark contrast, only 15 companies reported a positive impact, with the cumulative gain worth £181,850 per month, an average of £12,123 for each of these businesses.
Businesses can contact the dedicated team of six call-handlers, backed by eight business advisers, each working from home, who can answer detailed enquiries specific to the individual business by telephone or video conference.
The Covid-19 Business Helpline can be reached by calling 03333 602300.
It is open from 8.30am to 5pm Monday to Friday.