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EXCLUSIVE: Is the government doing enough to support jewellers as they are forced to close?

Cabinet Reshuffle

Today marks the first day that all jewellery stores nationwide are closed, after the Prime Minister ordered non-essential retail firms to close last night.

A lock-down was immanent, but the government have been slow to enforce it due to the impact it will have on people’s lives and wellbeing.

Putting customers first though is something the jewellery trade is renowned for, so it is little surprise many closed before the government officially enforced it.

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So far the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has announced two initiatives to help businesses at this time.

The first, a £330bn business rescue package, which includes a business rates holiday, interest-free loans and a cash grant for those businesses with a rateable value of less than £51,000.

CLICK HERE TO READ HOW INDEPENDENT JEWELLERS RESPONDED TO THE RESCUE PACKAGE

This was then followed by an announcement that government grants will cover 80% of salary of retained workers.

Sunak says the cover of 80% will reach salaries up to £2,500 a month.

Starting with payroll from the first of March, this rescue wage package applies for three months with no limit on spending.

For Jeremy France Jewellers in Winchester, a retailer with no online presence, this announcement gave the company the green light to close its doors.

Managing director, Harriet France, tells Professional Jeweller: “I was very relieved to hear the government’s plan to support Furlough workers. As a non-ecommerce retailer this means a big weight is off my shoulders. We have now closed to the public and have started our wind down.

“Staff understand times are tough and accepting a temporary dip in pay is a small price to pay for the health and wellbeing of the nation. Fortunately we have continued to be in constant communication with the staff and have constantly asked for their support and checked their wellbeing through this. We are winding down safely and will be a stronger more determined team when we return.”

The director adds: “I think what the Government is offering is more than enough as it allows short term survival for everyone to cover basic needs. I look forward to additional details being published so we can start the process of applying for BI Loans and rebates.”

Peter Jackson of Peter Jackson the Jewellers says the 80% contribution has also been a massive relief for him as protecting the business and his “wonderful staff” has been a primary concern throughout this difficult period.

The business owner will also be topping up the wages of everyone who has been with the company more than a year.

“In any dark period, there are moments of light and the strength of relationship between us all has been one of those notes for me,” Jackson tells our editor. “I have been overwhelmed by the kind words of support I have received from so many of our team and they know that can call or e-mail me any time night or day if they have any worries or concerns.

“The greatest worry I haven is how we will pay our rent bills. The government’s arbitrary figure of £51,000 rateable value for receiving a grant misses out many small independent businesses like ours and I would like to see that raised to £150,000.”

Managing director of W E Clark, David Clark, has been impressed with what the government has been offering, although he does acknowledge there are gaps, but there is bound to be as this is such an unprecedented and massive issue.

The help with wages though is very welcome for the business owner in Sussex.

“I think the 80% wage cover is a great help,” shares Clark. “I am still, like many of my fellow business owners, not entirely sure how we will fare over this period until normality resumes- but health is the most important thing.”

Jo Stroud of Leamington Spa-based Fabulous Jewellers concurs: “The rescue package announced by the chancellor is extremely welcome, with the 100% business rates reduction being very useful indeed, and the grant money to help small businesses. The retention scheme for furloughed staff is also very helpful, and will help our retail staff, as we have today closed our store.”

For Stroud, who runs an e-commerce store and wellbeing jewellery brand, Mantra, she would like some more clarity about online businesses and how they should act at this time.

She explains: “It is still unclear what to do about ecommerce, however, as most jewellery brands seem intent on keeping their online stores open at the moment – but this is a rapidly changing picture. If online sales slow down dramatically as people worry about their finances, then jewellery companies will have no choice but to close websites too. This is our biggest area of concern right now, as we are currently trying to keep both Fabulous and Mantra operational online for the time being.”

As online remains open for business, please do get in touch with Professional Jeweller if you are doing anything innovative digitally during this time. Simply email stacey.hailes@itppromedia.com with any details you are happy to share with the rest of the trade.

While the majority feel positive with the governments help to pay staff wages, Harriet Kelsall of Harriet Kelsall Bespoke Jewellery points out there the details have still not been outlined.

It is impossible to know how it will work and we are awaiting the all-important details,” she tells Professional Jeweller. “They could be a life line for businesses and staff but it is very complicated and hard to know so far.”

Kelsall continues to explain: “With little understanding of the detail, it may be that you put some of your staff on the furlough status and they get 80% of their wage but in that time it says they are not allowed to do any work for your company. This doesn’t sound that good for their wellbeing – so they will remain employed by you but not allowed to do any work at all.  So even if you can find them an hour or two of non-essential work per day (just to keep them sane) like watching training videos or working on their hand sketching skills, this isn’t allowed. But at the same time you might ask others of your staff to continue working and maybe ask them to kindly accept 90% of their wages so that you can keep more of them… so their colleagues sunbathe all summer and go a bit mad not being allowed to do any work, whilst the remaining workers work flat out all summer for not much more money than those not working. Seems odd and difficult to manage as a business leader and it will be hard to make this seem fair on many levels.

“The other problem is that we don’t know how long it will take to be able to access these funds yet.  So we don’t know whether we can put people into this status now, or whether it will take ages to back-date.”

It has also not be explained how easy the process of applying for these grants will be.

As businesses are doing all they can to stay afloat at this time, many jewellers are hoping this will be made as easy as possible so the focus can be on getting staff paid quickly and fairly… and keeping good communication with them and their rights at this time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The author Stacey Hailes

Editor, Professional Jeweller

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