More than 70% of businesses in Liverpool city region’s £4bn powerhouse maritime sector are confident they will survive the coronavirus crisis – despite many reporting huge drops in revenues and staff cuts.
Over the past week industry body Mersey Maritime has sent out surveys to its several hundred members, to get a sense of how they were dealing with the lockdown that has had a huge impact on the economy.
At the outset of the crisis Mersey Maritime chief executive Chris Shirling-Rooke warned the industry, which employs more than 50,000 people in the city region, would face “unprecedented challenges” in the coming weeks. But he added he was confident the sector would demonstrate its resilience and fighting spirit.
And that assessment is borne out by the replies to the survey. Around half of its members responded and one of the key findings was that 73% of maritime firms were either confident or very confident their business would survive the crisis.
However, there are also signs of significant falls in revenues for many companies in the sector. The survey reveals 55% are experiencing a fall in turnover while 41% seeing a fall in profits. Additionally, it was shown that 37% of respondents have not reduced staffing levels with 14% having to reduce staff and 32% furloughing some employees.
Respondents to the survey range from self-employed traders to companies employing more than 250 people and Mersey Maritime aims to repeat the exercise every couple of weeks for the duration of the crisis.
The organisation is feeding in the results of the study to the Maritime UK Business Continuity Taskforce, on which it is playing a leading role. The taskforce brings together the UK maritime sector with senior Government officials in a push to keep the country’s vital supply chain moving.
It will also feed data to the city region’s local authorities who have been tasked with allocating money to businesses under the various support schemes launched by Chancellor Rishi Sunak over the past couple of weeks.
There is concern that money is not getting to stricken firms quickly enough. Earlier this week Liverpool City Council said it had given out £36m in grants to almost 2,900 firms. But when the scheme was launched two weeks ago it estimated up to 9,000 may be eligible and it urged companies to get in touch and apply.
The Mersey Maritime survey showed that the most popular support schemes for its members were the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (48% yes/maybe to access), Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (70% yes/maybe), VAT Income Tax deferral (68% yes/maybe), Sick Pay Relief (63% yes/maybe).
And while 65% said they were satisfied or very satisfied with the support available, many said there was a need for Government and local authorities to better communicate the details of what support is available and who might be eligible. It showed 34% wanted more information around grant funding and help for future planning.
Chris Shirling-Rooke said: “We appreciate that Government and local authorities have had to respond quickly to this crisis but we are concerned that, in some cases, not enough money is getting to where it needs to get to quickly enough.
“The number of businesses helped in Liverpool so far, for example, is well short of the city council’s estimate of how many might be eligible. We know the finance teams in all of the city region’s six local authorities have been working very hard to process claims and get money out of the door.
“But we need to see a new communications push across the city region to make sure no company is unaware of the range of help and support that is available to them in the form of grants and loans.
“This is a fraught time for us all. I said the maritime sector would rise to the challenge of the COVID-19 outbreak and I am heartened to see so many of our members are showing their determination and resilience. We must make sure they have all the support we can possibly offer them.”