Chambers of Commerce challenge PM to meet five business tests for Covid restrictions
regular update from John Bridge OBE DL
Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce, as an integral part of the Accredited Chamber Network, have yesterday sent a letter to the Prime Minister following a week of increasing, regionally tiered restrictions, with more severe ‘circuit breaker’ restrictions under consideration, as the country battles a second wave of the pandemic.

The letter challenges the Prime Minister to meet five business tests both for current and prospective Coronavirus restrictions:

1. Are the restrictions evidence-based and targeted effectively?
2. Are the restrictions clear and do businesses have time to prepare?
3. Is support for businesses commensurate with the impact on them?
4. Will the time that the restrictions are in place be used to significantly improve the Test, Trace and Isolate system?
5. Is there a clear process for increasing and decreasing restrictions?


The letter reads: “While the recent announcement of an enhanced Job Support Scheme will assist some firms, Chamber members tell us it will not be enough to stave off mass redundancies and business failures.”

There is also a clear warning that improving the government’s ailing test and trace system is the only way to get a grip on the virus over the long term and prevent economic paralysis. The letter reads: “The need for additional restrictions cannot be blamed on a lack of care by hardworking people in businesses across the country. Instead it represents a failure of the Test and Trace system, which must be urgently improved and expanded.”

Chambers are clear about the consequences of not meeting the tests. The letter continues: “These tests must be met – to avoid serious damage to business and consumer confidence, and potentially catastrophic economic consequences. We must preserve our economy in the immediacy, while also laying the foundations of future growth. Failure to do so will undermine any broader efforts to ‘level up’ left-behind parts of the UK.”

The letter concludes: “The Coronavirus is not going away anytime soon. The government must waste no more time in setting out a clear strategy to keep the economy functioning, while protecting public health over the long term.”

Over the critical weeks ahead, the following tests must be met – to avoid serious damage to business and consumer confidence, and potentially catastrophic economic consequences.


1. Are the restrictions evidence-based and targeted effectively? 
  • There is a strong body of expert opinion that the proposals will be effective, are necessary and are targeted effectively
  • The medical and scientific material and advice which inform decisions (including options not followed) is published without delay along with those decisions
  • There are no ways in which the restrictions have a disproportionate effect on business or are counterproductive. For example, some businesses tell us that they would rather be closed by order under Tier 3, due to the design of the current support on offer, than have to close because restrictions have destroyed demand in a Tier 2 area
  • Bearing in mind the significant steps businesses have taken to become Covid-secure, they allow as many businesses as possible to remain as open and operational as possible
  • There is strong co-ordination between HM Government, Devolved Administrations, Mayoral Combined Authorities, Local Authorities and others, including businesses.

2. Are the restrictions clear and do businesses have time to prepare?  
  • Business communities have been consulted on the design of the restrictions.
  • There is clarity on which businesses are affected, how, and when
  • The changes have been communicated clearly, so that each business can understand the implications for them and their (geographically diverse) supply chains and workforce
  • There is consistency of messaging across local and national government, and enforcement agencies are clear from the get-go about new rules and how they should be applied
  • Businesses have been given time to prepare for the change. 

3. Is support for businesses commensurate with the impact on them?  
  • Financial support that adequately compensates businesses for the damage caused by restrictions and prevents business failures is in place. The July model of the furlough (CJRS) scheme, built up to include the many previously exempted businesses, is the starting point for this
  • Adequate support is available both for those businesses directly impacted (e.g. forced to close) and those indirectly impacted (e.g. supply chain, fall in demand)
  • Cash flow support is in the form of grants or easements (e.g. reduced VAT), rather than just additional forbearance or more debt
  • Support packages are set for the longer-term period, at least 12 months, giving businesses the certainty they need to plan ahead. Ideally, businesses should be able to plan now for the entirety of 2021.

4. Will the time that the restrictions are in place be used to significantly improve the Test, Trace and Isolate system? 
  • Test, Trace and Isolate will be improved during the period of the restrictions for all areas, with a clear plan to meet the necessary standards to manage the disease (in terms of coverage, speed of response and effectiveness of tracing and isolation). In particular:
- Link more recognised and approved tests to the NHS test and trace system. No test is perfect, but rapid testing with follow-ups where required would help keep businesses and schools open and operating. It would also help our airports and restore key business connections around the world
- Use the government’s purchasing power to drive down testing costs for private employers.  With clear standards and procurement at scale, frequent low-cost testing could be introduced in workplaces of all sizes and sectors 
- Harness private sector and university partners to rapidly increase test-processing capacity
- Share the load. Resources and responsibilities should be devolved to local and regional level in order to increase effectiveness of the system.

5. Is there a clear process for increasing and decreasing restrictions?
  • The relevant communities understand what the test will be for introducing, increasing, removing or limiting the restrictions
  • There is clarity over the metrics being applied (e.g. is the key test the R rate, hospital admissions, etc?), review points and the likely length of time restrictions will be in place
  • There is a road map for exiting the restrictions, for each area affected, agreed with local stakeholders, and a shared consensus of how it will be achieved.

It is absolutely critical that we must preserve our economy in the immediacy, while also laying the foundations for future growth and these tests are key to that being achieved and we challenge the Government to ensure they are.

Contact the Chamber

01223 237414 •  enquiries@cambscci.co.uk
Cambridgeshire Chamber of Commerce
Clifford House • 2 Station Yard • Oakington • CB24 3AH • United Kingdom
www.cambridgeshirechamber.co.uk