Speciality Breads: "Plans have been conceived, re-conceived, re-re-conceived and then finally implemented"
Managing Director of Speciality Breads, Simon Cannell, speaks out on the government response to the Covid-19 outbreak, specifically with regard to how small businesses have been affected.
It's been the most unbelievable ten days or so. Plans have been conceived, re-conceived, re-re-conceived and then finally implemented in a mad rush.
That's us, by the way, not the government, but I think it is fair to say the sentiment applies to both!
I was astounded and ashamed at the way some businesses behaved at the beginning of last week, abandoning their staff at the first whiff of hardship before waiting to see what support would be available. We waited as long as we could as we finessed our plan, but it's been incredibly challenging trying to formulate a plan in this time.
We were ultimately forced to cease "normal" production early yesterday morning as a result of concern for staff welfare and a complete collapse of sales. At this time of year, we normally see sales of £140,000 to £160,000 per week. Last week, it dropped to £18,000 and this week will likely be below £10,000.
We are in the very unfortunate position of supplying almost exclusively into the foodservice sector. This means that the collapse of the hospitality market has resulted in our sales plummeting. Looking at the wording of the rates relief announcement, it also looks as though we currently will not qualify. This not only affects us, but all of our customers too, who are generally wholesalers to the hospitality trade. The hospitality trade does not function without food manufacturers, and while those that also supply the supermarkets are protected by the retail boom, many of us are not.
We will continue to service those customers who are remaining open with a skeleton crew who will work ad hoc as required. This presents another concern, however; as a result of the way that the salary support package has been presented, we will be putting all of the burden of work and risk onto a very small number of staff. This is because we can't class a worker as furloughed and then bring them in to do any work. The problem with this is that we are subsequently not able to have workers operate in three teams to avoid the risk of contaminating each other -- meaning there is no back-up option should someone contract the virus.
We have also approached our local hospitals to provide them with loaves of bread at below cost to support the NHS workers. These would be loaves baked fresh and delivered into hospitals, available daily to doctors and nurses at just 50p each. Once more, however, the problem with this is that technically we would not be able to use furloughed workers to produce this but if we go ahead, I would class them as volunteers.
I keep coming back to Boris's statement of "stand by your staff and we will stand by you". I'm taking him at his word, but at the moment it feels as though the small print is getting in the way of businesses that are trying to do the right thing. At present, we will do what we feel is right and ask for forgiveness later. I just hope that the prime minister is a man of his word.