Bounce? UK business views split as Covid lockdown improves Economy


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The UK economy returned to growth in February despite continuing restrictions linked to the pandemic, as businesses and consumers adjusted and prepared for the easing of the lockdown.

The Guardian spoke to three companies about how they have dealt with the crisis over the past year and their hopes of negotiating after the lockdown.

Banquet Records, Kingston upon Thames

Banquet Archives Staff
Jon Tolley with the staff of Banquet Records. Photography: Jon Tolley

Banquet Records, an independent record store, sometimes has lines of music lovers around the block. But even before the first lockdown, the owners chose to shut down. They haven’t opened since.

Jon Tolley, co-founder of the store, said he wants to wait for all social contact to resume. “Record stores will always be focused on the charm and cult of in-person navigation. We are not an Argos. We need to be totally immersed in the tactile experience, or not bother to do it at all. “

The store’s resilience stems from running a diverse business: organizing concerts, selling vinyl over-the-counter and online, and owning your own record label. Government grants and the vacation program helped him get through the initial crisis.

Banquet quickly adapted to online-only sales, which are now double pre-pandemic levels, and organized virtual concerts.

“People have nothing to do but stay home and listen to records,” Tolley said. “The biggest challenge is not knowing where we’re going to be.”

Banquet had to postpone some concerts four times and make refunds after the sold-out shows were canceled.

“I’m nervous about a vaccine passport, but I don’t see any other pragmatic way to get 1,000 people into a sweaty room,” Tolley said.

Pop Up d’Eli, Hatfield

Danny Wheeler overcame the struggle to lose his job due to the pandemic by throwing a takeout with friends in Hatfield.

Keen to energize the street food scene in the town of Hertfordshire, Wheeler and four friends pooled their savings to open a fried chicken business, Eli’s Pop Up. It employs 10 people.

After generating a buzz on social media, they started taking online orders in November and using a kitchen at a local pub to prepare food for delivery around Hatfield.

Wheeler, a former digital marketer, said: “There isn’t a lot of government financial support for new businesses. You can get a loan at a 6% interest rate, but that’s a risk. “

“Lockdown’s mental health record, coupled with the stress of a new business, made it difficult,” he added. “What keeps us going is the will to make it work.”

Open Wednesday through Sunday, the company has a turnover of £ 5,000 per week and plans to open a second location in Shoreditch, London, as an office lunch spot.

Wheeler said all money earned is being reinvested in the business, which will turn into an alfresco sit-down meal at the pub. “Now that the government is hitting the vaccine target, I am optimistic that in June things will get back to normal,” he said.

“People are eager to come back there – we are trying to come to terms with that.”

AJ Power, Craigavon

AJ Power COO, Dr James Cochrane, and CEO and Chairman Ashley Pigott.
AJ Power COO, Dr James Cochrane, and CEO and Chairman Ashley Pigott. Photography: Sharon Williamson

AJ Power manufactures diesel generator sets for sale in international markets.

While the manufacturer has performed well during Covid-19, the post-Brexit protocol in Northern Ireland has crippled the company with an onslaught of paperwork and surcharges.

The protocol created a new trade border with Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, resulting in additional checks on goods.

“It’s been a huge problem for us,” Pigott said. “We have 15,000 production line items – 80% of which are from mainland Britain – all of which need to be customs coded.”

“On top of that, you have a whole administrative bureaucratic nightmare,” Pigott said, adding that the government merchant support service, which is intended to help businesses that move goods in and out. from Northern Ireland, had created unexpected difficulties for which they were not prepared. .

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AJ Power now pays a transport surcharge of around £ 30 for each shipment. “It’s going to cost us a lot of money over the next 12 months,” Pigott said.

New tariff rules have also hit the company. “We end up having to pay European duties on goods and components that will never enter the European market,” he said.

Pigott fears lasting damage to Northern Ireland’s manufacturing sector, which he says is an integral part of the country’s heritage. “It’s a lot of cost and a lot of effort, which doesn’t add any value,” he said.

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