BUSINESS confidence has dropped sharply as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, according to the latest report for the Winchester Business Improvement District (BID).

A quarterly report says businesses predict that the median change in sales for 2020 versus 2019 will be minus 30 per cent.

The confidence score on a scale of -10 to +10 has dropped from +2.5 before the virus to minus 2. The report states: “This amounts to a fall in confidence of just over 21 per cent which is hardly surprising in the circumstances. It might have been much bigger.”

The downturn in trade is shown by the usual 60 responses being replaced by just 26. Half said they have stopped trading, 27 per cent were doing limited trade and only 23 per cent were trading normally.

On staffing, BID businesses have gone to trouble to avoid redundancies with 91 per cent avoiding it. And 90 per cent of employers are continuing to pay salaries and wages to some extent. Most businesses [94 per cent] are paying at least 80 per cent of their staff costs including reliance on the government’s furlough support scheme.

The report estimates that 80 per cent of BID members are affected by the lockdown.

It was compiled by John Kind, of Winchester Business School and Sara Arnold, principal, Secret Genius.

Paul Spencer, executive director of Winchester BID, told the Chronicle: "The Coronavirus (COVID19) crisis has affected us all and this is a difficult time for businesses and in particular those which have been required to close temporarily in accordance with Government guidelines.

"When the lockdown was announced many local businesses closed overnight and we know that the process of re-opening and re-engaging with customers and clients will take much longer. As we begin to think beyond the crisis and start planning for recovery it will be important that local businesses, public bodies and the people of Winchester can all work together and support one another to enable the local economy to restart while keeping everyone safe and well.

"In the meantime, I encourage your readers to continue to support their local businesses if they are able and it is safe to do so. Some remain open for essential goods with social distancing measures in place, you can still choose to shop locally online, order food for takeaway or home delivery, buy gift vouchers for future use, donate to local charities, support local businesses providing services online and rate your favourite Winchester businesses with 5 star reviews."

The BID is backing a national campaign to help many more retail, hospitality and leisure businesses survive the crisis.

The #RaiseTheBar campaign is calling on the Government to increase the rateable value threshold from £51,000 to £150,000 for eligibility for the £25,000 Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant (RHLG). This will allow tens of thousands more businesses to access the grant.

The BID points out that the retail industry is worth £394 billion to the UK economy, the leisure sector £111 billion and hospitality £130 billion, altogether totalling £635 billion. However, according to the campaign there are currently 54,638 shops, pubs, clubs, restaurants, hotels and leisure businesses in the UK’s high streets, town and city centres and in our communities unable to access the Government grant, putting millions of jobs at risk.

Steve Brine MP has raised the issue of the grants threshold and has written to the Treasury and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

Dr Spencer said: “The Government has announced an extensive support package for businesses coping with the economic impact of coronavirus and businesses in Winchester are extremely grateful.

“Nevertheless, we are hearing from businesses in retail, hospitality and leisure above the rateable value threshold of £51,000 who feel excluded from this grant and are worried about their futures. The proposal put forward by the #RaiseTheBar campaign will help over 70 Winchester city centre businesses we love and cherish and many thousands more elsewhere across the country”.