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Coronavirus Kent: Small businesses likely to suffer as result of outbreak

Small businesses have been warned by a Kent business expert they are likely to struggle amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Once bustling town centres have been eerily quiet as the county went into lockdown, with only essential shops open, this week.

Jo James from the Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce

Employers have been able to access a range of help so businesses are supported through the next few months.

A 12-month business rates holiday for all retail, hospitality, leisure and nursery businesses in England has been introduced with a range of grants and VAT payments have been put off until a future date.

The Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce has been working to make sure the advice from government to businesses is as clear as possible.

Its chief executive, Jo James, said: "I think the most obvious thing is that the shops are closed, there's not many people about.

Sittingbourne High Street unusually quiet
Sittingbourne High Street unusually quiet

"It's a very sad thing to see but a very necessary thing to see if we're going to all work together to do whatever we can to prevent this from spreading further.

"The high street has suffered for many years as we know and to have something like this where they have to close – particularly where you're looking at smaller independents – where they don't know how long they're going to have to close for but there has to be a question mark whether some of them will be able to reopen.

"Very small businesses might not be able to sustain not having the income, although there is support there from government, it's not the same as being open, up and running."

Ms James added the chamber has been working to make sure information from government is easy for people to understand.

"Where there's not clarity, we've been lobbying government and trying to get questions answered," she added.

Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce chief executive, Jo James
Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce chief executive, Jo James

"If I look at the last week what's been our focus is working with local authorities, Kent County Council, through the Kent and Medway Growth Hub and we launched a free business advice service where they can phone up, get front-line advice and have one-to-one advice from a business adviser."

The scheme will run for up to three months with the possibility of it being extended, if needed.

Businesses have also been adapting to the changing times.

Matthew Waghorn runs Stones Garden Centre in Halfway on Sheppey.

He said: "We've had to shut our coffee shop completely.

Stones Garden Centre in Halfway on Sheppey. Picture: Google
Stones Garden Centre in Halfway on Sheppey. Picture: Google

"We're not doing takeaways and the garden centre is also closed but we're doing home deliveries as people can still place orders on our website.

"I've told staff they are not to go into anyone's homes and they have to keep a good distance."

Mr Waghorn went on to say he has not taken advantage of the help offered by government to help businesses weather the storm.

"To be honest I think if everyone is sensible and does what's asked we could be out of this in three weeks and then we'll be alright."

He has also been able to retain most of his workforce as orders for compost and vegetable plants, including potatoes and tomatoes, pick up.

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