07 May 2020

It has been a very worrying and challenging time for the whole country but at the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) we have been working hard to help members. 

I have been speaking with a wide-range of members across the region about the difficulties they are facing due to the Covid-19 pandemic. There are many members who have had to temporarily close their rural businesses while the lockdown continues and we have been able to sign-post them to the support and funding available during this crisis.  The Covid-19 page on the CLA website is comprehensive, covering the breadth of government support and information our members need for all aspects of their businesses.

We are liaising with government departments on the changes in guidelines after the Prime Minister's announcement on Sunday evening, and the release of a 50-page document released on Monday afternoon.  We will keep members updated with more information on our website over the coming days, but if you have any specific queries on how it affects your business, please do get in touch.

We have produced 14 member-only briefings covering the various business support measures put in place by the government. These have included; furloughing (with a template letter members can use), landlord-tenants issues for agriculture, commercial and residential tenancies (the latter with a template letter for rent concessions if members wish to go down that route), access issues, and various other topics which members have been asking questions about.  We keep these updated as government advice changes.

We have received almost 400 requests for advice on COVID-19 matters.  Please do get in contact with the East office if you need advice and support. It’s what we are here for.

We are encouraging small rural businesses to apply for government grants via their local authorities. Most councils have written to eligible businesses in their area with a request to verify details in order for them to make appropriate payments. 

All businesses in receipt of either Small Business Rates Relief (SBRR) or Rural Rates Relief (RRR) will be eligible for a payment of £10,000.  Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Businesses with a rateable value of less than £51,000 will be eligible for a cash grant of £10,000 or £25,000 per property.

The government has also announced new support aimed at small businesses with ongoing fixed property-related costs.  Businesses in shared spaces, regular market traders, small charity properties, and bed and breakfasts should take priority but local authorities can allocate to other businesses based on local economic need.  To qualify businesses must be small, under 50 employees, and they must also be able to demonstrate that they have seen a significant drop of income due to Covod-19 measures.

Through our lobbying work, we have recently provided a briefing to all rural MPs in this region regarding delaying the transition away from direct payments for farmers. This transition is currently scheduled for 2021 and the CLA believes it should be delayed by at least 12 months given the current uncertainties and disruption caused by Covid-19.

We are continuing to lobby on behalf of rural businesses on a range of other issues – from raising awareness of the increase in fly-tipping due to the current lockdown – to ensuring there are enough workers on farms to cover harvest this year.

Whilst we have had to cancel events, we are embracing technology and producing online webinars for our members. To to sign up or view past recordings, click here.

On Wednesday, we are running a residential lettings update, a topic which we were due to cover in our seminar in Grantham back in March.  On Friday, Mark Bridgeman will be talking to Henry Dimbleby, who is the independent lead of the National Food Strategy. 

We are told by the government that we may have now passed the peak of this current crisis. If so, we need to ensure that those rural businesses that have been hit hardest by the lockdown receive the support they need to operate as part of any staged lifting of restrictions. We have been liaising with government on re-opening the rural economy.  

The government has recently introduced a bounce back loan scheme where small businesses are able to apply loans of up to £50,000 to help them make it through the Covid-19 outbreak. Business owners can apply to accredited lenders by filling out an online form, with only seven questions.

The government has also agreed with lenders that a flat rate of 2.5% interest will be charged on these loans. And any business that has already taken out a Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan of £50,000 or less can apply to have these switched over to this new scheme.

Everything possible must be done to help all businesses get back on their feet when the lockdown begins to ease. Failure to do so risks putting many businesses at risk of permanent closure and we simply cannot allow that to happen.

While Covid-19 dominates the national and global agenda our CLA team continues to protect the interests of landowners in this region on a range of other matters too.

We are receiving calls from our members on a daily basis on issues of rural crime, countryside stewardship, public access, and BPS payments, all of which are issues that will undoubtedly continue once the Covid-19 pandemic finally begins to subside.

We will all be living and operating in a very different way for many months to come but the resilience and entrepreneurship that rural businesses continue to show will be hold them in good stead to weather this current storm. Here at the CLA we are steadfast in our determination to ensure the voice of rural communities continues to be heard.