Independent toy retailers have blasted the UK government for under-serving the country’s small businesses, labelling the current grants offered to them in the face of yet more months of closure as “derisory.”
The announcement of further restrictions and imposed nation-wide lockdowns across Scotland and England made this week, as well as plans to issue £4.6bn in relief funds for those in the retail, hospitality, and leisure sectors, has done little for the confidence of business owners now forced to shut their doors for a third time.
Following the announcement on Monday, January 4th, Chancellor Rishi Sunak was quick to detail plans to supplement businesses with a relief fund that would offer small business owners grants of up to £9,000 amid the ongoing fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
These grants have, however, been labelled as ‘derisory offerings’ made by a government ‘unaware of the plight of cash-strapped SMEs,’ by independents concerned that the lockdown measures will do nothing but direct more business to online giants like Amazon.
“I’m normally a very optimistic person, but this year I am not at all optimistic. In a nutshell, the new lockdown will be game over for many independent toy businesses,” Wendy Hamilton, owner of the Scottish independent toy shop, Curious Minds, told ToyNews.
“Our incompetent government seems blithely unaware at best, unconcerned at worst, with the plight of SMEs who are already cash-strapped and now indebted with loans, which will have to be paid back at some point.
“Offering £2-3k compensation every four weeks is derisory, especially as the grants will be paid retrospectively at the end of each four week period.”
The break down of the one-off top-ups will offer £4,000 to businesses with a rateable value of £15,000 or under, £6,000 for those with a rateable value between £15,000 and £51,000, and £9,000 for businesses with a rateable value of over £51,000.
A strong Christmas trading period for independent toy retailers, buoyed by an end-of-year rally for consumers to shop local and support small businesses over Christmas, as well as 2020’s strong trend for traditional toys and games, has gone some way to alleviate some of the major concerns around cash-flow for businesses forced through stop-start motions over the past year.
In fact, a combination of in-store shoppers and online customers compelled to support their local stores has led a number of independent toy retailers to cite 2020 as their strongest Christmas trading period to date.
Lisa Clay, owner of Armadillo Toys, told ToyNews: “Christmas or December sales were almost definitely the best we have ever had. I also feel like we worked very hard for it though. We were locked down for most of November, so sales were not so good, but we did make up for that with very good online sales, and being able to be in the shop for click and collect was a life-saver.”
While click and collect has been the tool to help a majority of indie retailers through the UK’s lockdowns, the concern lays in maintaining the momentum of the ‘shop local’ sentiment among consumers, particularly now outside of the Christmas period.
On top of this, with schools now better prepared to offer children at-home lessons through MS Teams and Zoom, there is a subtle expectation for the high demand in learning toys that drove much of the sales of 2020 to quieten down over the coming months.
“I am still stocking up just in case, said Amanda Alexander, owner of Giddy Goat Toys. “I think parents will still want to get a few extra games and puzzles to add to their toy boxes, but I don’t think there will be quite the craze for educational games and paints, and pavement chalk as there was last April.”
Many businesses, then, will be looking towards the government for financial support through the ‘long weeks’ ahead until lockdown is lifted once again, with no real certainty as to when that will be.
“The government has assumed SMEs have money in the bank upfront ready to pay rents, water, utilities, pensions, and NI, if there are any staff left to pay,” said Curious Minds’ Hamilton. “My crystal ball shows more redundancies, more business closures, more business taking on greater debt to try and survive hoping for post-lockdown recovery.
“There’s always an opportunity in any scenario, but the stop-start nature of these lockdowns takes a chunk out of small businesses every time they happen.”