It goes without saying that we’re living in unusual and challenging times. But even in normal periods, we can all face business crises. So, how do we manage our way through them: operationally, financially and in our communications with the outside world?
We ran a series of short virtual events to help Wired Sussex members do just that. Below you will find an overview of the sessions and videos of the talks.
Mark Horsfield and Peter Hedgethorne from Plus Accounting shared their advice about how your businesses could and should respond financially when faced with a crisis.
They also covered the newly announced government Bounce Back loans scheme, Furlough, the Self-Employment Scheme, other grants available and their general advice to businesses at this time.
Plus, to help businesses keep abreast of all the latest developments they have been sharing really helpful updates via their blog, which you can find here.
Alex Morrison, Founder and MD of digital media agency Cogapp, explained how we might use the OODA system (Observe > Orient > Decide > Act) to develop a strategic approach to managing a crisis. This gave members the opportunity to probe deeper into an article that Alex had recently published on ‘How to Manage an Organisation through a Crisis’.
Vicki Hughes, MD and Founder of PR and communications consultancy FUGU PR, spoke about communicating with your team, your clients and your customers when your business hits an unforeseen bump in the road.
Scottish-based tech firms are being asked to help build the future of Scotland as a digital nation.
The ScotlandIS Challenge, launched today by ScotlandIS in partnership with The Scottish Government, is calling on companies of all sizes to submit ideas, by Tuesday 16th June, that will help increase the pace of Scotland’s digital progress and develop the critical national digital and data infrastructure the country needs.
The resulting projects will be taken forward as part of The Scottish Government’s CivTech process, which has an established track record of bringing the public and private sectors together to deliver innovative solutions and create new commercial opportunities, from making more essential public services available online, to improving how financial transactions are carried out.
Jane Morrison-Ross, chief executive of ScotlandIS, said:
“Through this challenge, Scotland has the opportunity to become a Digital Nation, a true digital democracy. Digital underpins everything and is critical to our economy. The rapid digital transformation of business and society would not have been possible without the infrastructure, products and services created by our digital ecosystem.
“But we can do more. And we can do it better. We want to harness technology and innovation to evolve current business models, drive efficiencies and productivity gains across the economy. To create a country known for innovation, for an ethical approach to data and an integrated approach to public services. By building the right transformational infrastructure and working collaboratively, we can create a Digital Scotland that is good for the people, the economy, the environment and the government.”
Ben Macpherson MSP, Minister for Public Finance and Migration said:
ScotlandIS and The Scottish Government are looking for ground-breaking ideas and potential solutions to challenges that display technical expertise and results-based thinking. The ScotlandIS Challenge is open and inclusive, and encourages firms to consider the following:
What are the key components of a new digital and data infrastructure and why they are a priority?
How can the national digital and data assets of Scotland be protected?
What are the technical solutions to build these components and how can they be applied?
How could more essential public services be delivered online – be that healthcare, education, or the way we carry out financial transactions?
How could The Scottish Government work more closely with the private sector to speed delivery, innovate and maximise benefits and investment to the Scottish economy?
Once ideas have been submitted, an expert multi-disciplinary team formed from Scottish Government and ScotlandIS will review the results, identify common themes, make the results available across Government, agree the priority actions to take and communicate back the findings and recommendations to the sector.
Manchester Digital has launched a free guide with advice for employers as lockdown restrictions are slowly lifted.
Created in partnership with senior HR specialists from Manchester Digital’s Employer’s Forum group, the guide lays out key considerations for employers in areas including people, office environments, employee health, home working, business travel and visitors, holidays and communications.
Katie Gallagher, managing director at Manchester Digital, said: “Even with restrictions eased slightly, the virus still presents a high risk, which will impact how businesses operate, and in particular how and when offices can safely re-open.
“Our free guide is intended to pose questions and considerations to employers as they’re thinking about the short, medium and long term plans for their business operations post lockdown. Of course, change is inevitable, so employers will need to remain flexible and able to respond quickly.”
Since the advent of the Covid-19 crisis and lockdown, the Wired Sussex team have been working tirelessly to support our regional digital, media and technology cluster.
We began with a rapid response strategy. This was designed to establish the immediate effect of the crisis on our members, focus on helping share our community’s knowledge, expertise and resources, and lobby national and local government on your behalf.
In the past five weeks, we have surveyed hundreds of businesses and individuals and spoken directly to many others in order to understand what the impact has been on our members, if the government support packages will work for them, and what new tactics we should develop to provide appropriate advice and support.
You can find the results of our initial survey here. We know that many of you are finding the current situation extremely challenging. In summary, two-thirds of the freelancers we spoke to expect to experience significant financial hardship, many small companies are not eligible for the SBBR grants as they are in managed or co-working spaces, and over three-quarters of companies are furloughing staff. Further, the government’s much-trumpeted emergency business loan scheme (COVIL) was not actually delivering for our members.
Our Slack Group, open to members and non-members alike, has become a go-to resource for hundreds of people, providing detailed and up-to-date information on support programmes, sharing resources, and connecting Wired Sussex members with digital and non-digital business, charities and community groups. Amongst the many successes that the Slack group has been party to, we are really pleased that it was instrumental in helping create the online home of the Covid-19 flashcards, which went from concept to launch in 72 hours, and are currently being used in hospitals in nearly 50 countries worldwide. If you want to connect, learn or help, then join the Wired Sussex Slack Group today.
Wired Sussex is engaging with the government, both regionally and nationally, on an almost daily basis. We are founder board members of the UK Tech Cluster Group and every week we have a weekly call with the Minister for Digital to help her understand the challenges our community faces and suggest action the government could take.
The work our sector does is critically important to the future of the region and will be key to the economic recovery of the UK, so it is vital that this sector is helped now when, through no fault of its own, it is in need.
We are pleased to see that in some key areas (e.g. targeted support for start-ups, revisions to the emergency loans scheme) the government has indeed listened and adapted. We will continue to openly and forthrightly articulate our clusters’ needs to the government.
We have followed up on this rapid response work up by adapting our business support programme to online and virtual delivery. We have already delivered over a dozen events virtually on various platforms. This included pivoting Talent Fest 2020, our week-long festival to support digital talent and leadership, to feature (all online):
1-2-1 portfolio advice from top design talent for 70+ budding digital creatives
A leadership Skills Summit with top international speakers including Bruce Daisley
A Jobs Fair providing information via talks and 1-2-1 advice to over 1,000 people worldwide on how to get and grow a career in digital in this region
Wired Sussex is a small, not-for-profit business and like most of you, it has been an uncertain and difficult time for us too. But we are determined to keep on supporting you and to hold dear to these guiding tenets:
We are independent
We don’t receive any funding from the public sector to sustain our organisation. We rely on income from our members, supporters and our FuseBox innovation hub residents. This means we always speak out for our community, and are never compromised in that.
“All the pieces matter”
We are not just about identifying and helping a few selected high-growth businesses. We support and recognise the value of every part of the regional digital ecosystem. So whether you are a start-up, a scale-up, a small firm or a freelancer, you matter equally to us.
Real lived knowledge
We are a local organisation with deep local roots. We listen and respond to our community every single day. The activity we undertake and the support we deliver is always based on understanding your challenges, your needs and your concerns.
But we cannot deliver without your ongoing support. If you are a freelancer or a business working in digital, media or tech in Sussex and are not yet a member of Wired Sussex, please join now. It’s just £72 (+VAT) per year. That’s less than £1.50 per week for a shedload of benefits (and love!).
Please help us to help you. It is your support that will enable us to continue supporting everyone in our cluster who needs it, both now and in the future.
The digital sector, in the majority, has coped perhaps better than any other sector. I’m not belittling any struggles digital companies have faced; to own and run a business during this situation has been unprecedented, throwing forward economic and moral challenges we are probably never likely to see again in this generation.
However, many companies I’ve spoken to or heard stories of have either maintained customer numbers or gained new ones. This is of course, not uniform. Those companies which can support digital adoption in other sectors have seen an acceleration of demand that, I believe, might have taken them 3 to 4 years of hard messaging and sales visits. Others in the digital sector that, for example have a software-as-a-service offering to increase sales or provide market intelligence, have seen a stagnation in their orderbook.
The current government initiatives to support businesses through this period are openly acknowledged as largely generic, there to help the widest range of businesses across all sectors. Some I’ve seen put to use with digital sector businesses. I’ve seen staff furloughed, although in the digital sector this tends to be either administrative staff or a cost-saving exercise by microbusinesses to ensure at least some revenue income.
At the time of writing this, the Future Fund still has unclear criteria which until sorted could make it incredibly useful or utterly pointless. InnovateUK funds have the ambition to maintain an upward curve of R&D spend but unless they can overcome the challenge of processing capacity and outreach to those that don’t normally access their funds, I feel a big amount of funding could have only a small positive effect across the UK.
It’s on this point, i.e. how we recover, I’d like to posit some thoughts. We entered this pandemic with a few points on the Government’s agenda but perhaps most significantly the ambition of “levelling-up”. We must not forget this ambition as we move into an economic, social and environmental recovery phase.
Whilst immensely important, the purpose of this blog isn’t to highlight the relationship between deprived UK areas and the health outcomes of those who’ve had CoronaVirus. Just looking at CoronaVirus Dashboard should be enough to instigate another incredibly essential conversation on this. Nor is this blog an advocacy on the effects of lockdown on our natural environment and the lessons we can take forward towards a net-zero carbon future. This blog is about our economic recovery.
I believe taking a demand led recovery stance will provide an immensely positive outcome, not only for the digital sector, but for all sectors across the whole of the UK. Importantly, this demand led recovery can be nuanced in different areas to meet local demand and thus underpin the levelling-up ambition that we must not cast aside.
Demand Led Recovery
Demand led recovery is about supporting all sectors to understand the new challenges they face as we adjust to the much mentioned ‘new-normal’. Some of these new challenges will be truly new, never before seen as challenges. Some will be existing challenges transformed by this new paradigm in which we now live. Importantly – and perhaps obviously given how I started this blog – there should be a huge emphasis on, and support for, how these challenges can be overcome through digital adoption and innovation.
Let me be clear, digital adoption is not a panacea for every challenge faced by every sector but in many cases, well planned and well executed digital adoption will help. We have an opportunity to maintain a vastly accelerated rate of digital adoption in this country if we provide ongoing support. This should include support to all industries to help them clarify and articulate their challenges. It should include funding to allow businesses to pilot and normalise digital adoption.
In doing this we will support digital demand sectors to become more productive and efficient whilst helping them innovate new products and services. This approach will also support the digital sector to refill its orderbook and develop new innovative offerings thus providing growth and employment.
Ultimately, I wholeheartedly believe this approach will advance the recovery of the UK economy at an expedited pace. I also imagine, if done right – with appropriate government support – this demand led digital adoption will truly underpin the levelling-up agenda.
The Thames Valley’s high growth tech sector will be a core driver of the region’s economic recovery, according to new research from consultancy Beauhurst. Its COVID-19 Business Impact report showed that nearly 20% of tech businesses (19%) have been positively impacted as a result of the COVID-19 crisis:14% cited a “surge in demand”. Meanwhile, 23% reported a “moderate” negative impact, with just 5% saying they were “critically” affected.
Tech community remains strongest part of UK economy
Partnering with tech and digital platform ConnectTVT, Beauhurst’s report found the Thames Valley following London as the region with the highest number of positively impacted business. Tech led sectors that enable remote working – VoIP, EdTech, eHealth and digital security – are seeing a rise in demand. The country’s extremities, primarily the South West and devolved region are the most negatively impacted. An analysis of the region’s response to the pandemic shows that 19% of the 2,000 businesses surveyed have limited their physical services. Seven per cent have had to further limit their service or product with the same figure losing a main customer group.
Investment key to future success
Elsewhere, Beauhurst’s report found that 22% of jobs (615,000) in the high-growth economy are immediately under threat. Additionally, investment capital is on shaky ground with £18.9b of equity investment at moderate to critical risk.
Louize Clarke, founder of ConnectTVT says, “These findings are reassuring only in the short-term. Looking ahead, we know the region is heavily reliant on investment – 69% of the Thames Valley’s scale-ups have used equity funding to grow since 2011. With this lifeline under threat, businesses will need support elsewhere to be able to hold onto teams, innovation and any chance of growth.”
Henry Whorwood Beauhurst’s Head of Research & Consultancy adds, “These firms will be integral to the UK’s productivity as we enter recovery, so it’s crucial interventions proposed by the Government reach these companies.”
ScotlandIS welcomes news today (Thursday 7th May) of the Scottish Government’s plan to invest £5 million for internet connections, training and support, and a laptop or tablet, to vulnerable people who are not already online during the response to coronavirus (COVID-19).
Jane Morrison-Ross, chief executive of ScotlandIS, said:
“ScotlandIS is delighted at news of the Scottish Government’s funding of the Connecting Scotland programme. The initiative, with support from several key industry players, will help the most vulnerable people in Scotland get online to access much needed support, information, and training at this challenging time.
“It is through collaboration, innovation, and intent that we can advance the digitisation of Scotland and ensure no-one is left behind when it comes to online connectivity, and ScotlandIS is proud to play its role in delivering on this ambition. We also wish to convey our gratitude to our members and the wider Scottish technology sector, in particular some of our smaller members who have offered much time, expertise and guidance. I would also like to thank Gartner for the fantastic project support which has enabled the collaboration between all partners.
The Connecting Scotland project is being delivered by the Scottish Government, in partnership with local authorities, Healthcare Improvement Scotland, The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) and the digital and IT sectors led by ScotlandIS. It is also supported by Microsoft, Leidos, the Data Lab, and Accenture.
The wake of covid, demand for data has combined with a democratisation of data; the general public are talking about R values and voraciously consuming graphs and figures. One of the hottest topics right now is the debate around the use and effectiveness of digital contact tracing apps. Data ethics and privacy are key issues when evaluating the pros and cons of a centralised approach versus a decentralised approach. The centralised approach creates a repository of contacts whereas in the decentralised approach all the data is held on individual’s phones and potential contacts are notified on a push basis only. One of the major concerns with centralised apps is the risk of scope creep. Once there is a central repository, there is potential for the data to be used for other purposes, such as identifying and penalising individuals who have interacted with too many other people. However, a central repository could also be of use to epidemiologists studying the spread of the disease – a purpose many people might be keen to support. Existing data protection law obviously requires data subjects to be informed on how their data will be used so theoretically there is already legal provision to guard against the risks of scope creep, but a lot depends on the phrasing of privacy notices. There is also the question of data retention and the dismantling any central repository when the immediate need has passed (who decides when that is and on what basis?).
Digital contact tracing is really only a small part of the contact tracing solution; it is not really that useful on it’s own. As one commentator said on Singapore’s TraceTogether app: “you can’t big data your way out of a no data situation”. Even if half of the population download and use the app, the chances of picking up a “contact” are only 25% (ie. 50% squared), so the majority of contacts will not be detected. There is also a high potential for false positives, eg. a bus passing close to a block of flats might register contacts which have not actually happened. Most contract tracing will therefore still be largely manual, with an army of people (18k across the UK) working to create a repository of people and contacts. These will be fully identifiable and definitely centralised, but surprisingly this aspect does not seem to be getting the same level of scrutiny as the digital contact tracing apps.
The way in which digital contact tracing functionality is used to supplement manual contact tracing is therefore of key importance and there are a number of potential uses – eg. to help fill gaps in people memories or perhaps to help with prioritisation of testing (eg. if you are ill and have had contact with a covid-19 sufferer, you could potentially be prioritised over someone who has not had contact). These are details which are still emerging.
These questions of data quality, provenance, ethics and privacy are issues which data professionals need to consider on a regular basis. Rarely have they been so high on the public agenda. The current debate highlights the importance and value of giving proper consideration to these questions. Let’s make sure this focus is carried forward into other subject areas and industries as we move beyond COVID-19.
In the face of coronavirus, many of us are looking at ways to safeguard our future. We’ve tried to collate all the information available into one space for you. Things will be changing all the time and we’ll be updating this page regularly as the Government provides more information and support.
Support for our community
The team we’re here to offer any support and advice that we can, you can contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Below we have detailed some of the packages announced by Government and how they could impact you
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
The Government has announced it will provide support to businesses around wages:
All employers are eligible for the scheme.
It’s only wages of people who aren’t working but are furloughed and kept on the payroll. We don’t know how you’ll show people are furloughed
The grant will cover 80% of their salary and offer retained workers up to £2,500 a month
It can be backdated to 1 March.
Employers can top-up salaries if they wish
There is no limit on funding and it’s open for at least three months.
IT will be paid to businesses by the end of April
Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme
This scheme will offer access to lending and overdrafts for businesses affected by the current crisis. The government will provide the banks with a guarantee for 80% of funds loans so lenders have the confidence to still provide finance.
Rates are 0% for the first 12 months
This is still a commercial loan so needs repaying, will be assessed on your business and may require security for the remaining 20%
The Bounce Back Loan Scheme has gone live today. Supplied by the British Business Bank’s accredited lenders, the programme offers access to loans worth 25% of a businesses turnover, up to a maximum of £50,000. Details of the scheme include:
Up to £50,000 loan: Loans will be from £2,000 up to 25% of a business’ turnover or £50,000, whichever is lower.
Interest rate: The government has set the interest rate at 2.5% per annum, all businesses will pay the same rate of interest.
Interest paid by the government for 12 months: The government will make a Business Interruption Payment to the lenders to cover the first 12 months of interest.
No principal repayments for first 12 months: Borrowers will not have to begin principal repayments for the first 12 months.
Finance terms: The length of the loan is for six years but early repayment is allowed, without early repayment fees.
No personal guarantees: No personal guarantees are allowed
Over the weekend that the government has released new funding of £617m for co-working space tenants, market traders and other businesses in England who aren’t being given funding through the coronavirus business rates grant scheme. The grants are to deliver £10,000 and £25,000 grants to companies
The government has said this fund is aimed at
small businesses with ongoing fixed property-related costs,
prioritising businesses in shared spaces, regular market traders, small charity properties that would meet the criteria for Small Business Rates Relief.
Businesses must be small, under 50 employees,
must also be able to demonstrate that they have seen a significant drop in income due to Coronavirus restriction measures.
However local authorities may choose to make payments to other businesses based on local economic need. The allocation of funding will be at the discretion of local authorities. We are working with Local Authorities in the West of England on this scheme and will update as guidance is released.
Statutory Sick Pay
All SMEs will be able to reclaim statutory sick pay for employees affected by Corona however no system is yet in place for this so it may take weeks to months for money to come back.
It’s for SMEs only (fewer than 250 employees)
It’s for 2 weeks SSP per employee who are off because of Corona
No sick note is needed just employer records
Self employed / Contractors / Freelancers
If you are self-employed Government offers support similar for employees
You will receive a taxable grant of 80% of your average monthly profit up to £2,500. You can still work through this time, unlike furloughed employees.
it will initially be for 3 months but payment won’t be until June
You need at least self-assessment return for 2019 & payment will be calculated using average monthly profits over the last three financial years
The cut off is for self-employed profits of £50,000 p.a.
If you are eligible HMRC will be in touch.
Some people won’t be eligible for the above. If so Government has said it will make it easier for you to claim Employment Support Allowance or Universal Credit at the rate of Statutory Sick Pay
During the crisis, the Universal Credit minimum income floor will be relaxed if you are sick with Corona or self-isolating
People can claim Universal Credit and access upfront payments without going to the jobcentre if they are self-isolating
Employment & Support Allowance can be paid you’re sick with Corona or self-isolating from day 1 (instead of the usual day 8)
Universal Credit has been increased by £1,000 a year for the next 12 months.
All self-assessment payments for businesses will be deferred to 2021.
Info on Employment and Support Allowance is here and Universal Credit here
Tax & VAT
Both business and self-employed can receive support from the HMRC time to pay scheme which means you can defer payments
The Chancellor announced that he is deferring the next quarter of VAT payments. You now have until the end of the year to pay them
HMRC will discuss instalments, suspensions of debt collection or cancelling interest