A NEW survey carried out by Ennis Chamber of Commerce has provided a localised view of how businesses across Clare have been impacted by COVID-19.
The COVID-19 Business Survey, conducted in conjunction with Clare FM, also gauges reaction to the suggestion that the town centre be pedestrianised to facilitate social distancing.
Ennis Chamber CEO, Margaret O’Brien said the response reveals just how stressed and anxious business owners are. “Although we now have a government roadmap for reopening our economy,” she said, “the level of uncertainty evident from the responses by business owners in County Clare, suggests that those fears, rooted in uncertainty, are set to continue. Shops, cafés, pubs, hotels, hairdressers and beauticians now know when they can open, but that knowledge does little to quell the fear that co-existing with COVID-19 restrictions could mean trading to break even, as opposed to turning a profit.”
The strongest sectoral response to the survey, came from retail, representing 42% of all respondents, with hospitality and tourism accounting for 35%, and professional services at 12%.
The top location for respondents was Ennis, at 70% of all respondents, but most towns and villages across Clare were represented, with particularly strong feedback from tourism and hospitality businesses around West and North Clare.
Eighty-one percent of businesses surveyed confirm they are not currently trading, with 84% of that number saying their business is shut ‘By Order.’
Assessing the impact of COVID-19 on their business to date, businesses pointed to many factors, cash flow topped the list at 93%, job losses followed on 62%, while 43% of respondents said the crisis was having a negative impact on their mental well-being. Some business owners spoke of the difficulty surrounding laying off loyal staff and the impact of dealing with the suddenness and shock of what has happened.
Fifty-nine percent of the businesses surveyed calculate their losses for 2020 will exceed 50%, based on last year’s turnover. A sizeable 13% predict losses in excess of 80% this year with tourism and hospitality businesses located in coastal communities worst hit.
In relation to the VAT rate for the tourism and hospitality sector after re-opening, the top unprompted answer was 0% for the remainder of this year (suggested by over 30% of respondents), followed by 5%, 7% , with the highest amount suggested at a modest 9%.
Respondents from the beauty and hair sectors, also asked to be included in a reduced VAT rate to assist with their survival prospects.
When asked in the centre of Ennis should be pedestrianised to facilitate social distancing, a significant majority, at 70% of respondents, agreed that it is a requirement in the current climate. When asked which streets should be pedestrianised, 90% said O’Connell Street; 77% added Abbey Street (from The Woollen Shop to The Square); while 48% also included Salthouse Lane and the Height.
Asked what Clare County Council might do to support businesses in the event of pedestrianisation, 82% of those surveyed agreed with the need to “provide a clear timetable for delivery/store access for businesses in affected streets,” 73% called for free car parking on certain days/times in town car parks, while 28% thought a ‘Park and Ride’ service for daily commuters from periphery of town might be a consideration worth exploring.
Ennis Chamber President Allen Flynn, owner of the Old Ground Hotel said he was delighted with the volume of responses to the survey and the level of engagement. “Ennis Chamber will now build on these results,” he said. “Already we are to participate on a committee, led by Ennis Municipal District to look at the practicalities and supports around re-opening Ennis. We look forward to active participation in that process and we invite any of the businesses in town interested in having their views represented by us, to please get in touch. This is a time for all of us to work together to effect the best possible outcomes.”
Ennis Chamber is currently working on a ‘Re-Energising Ennis’ campaign, which includes promotional concepts and initiatives, and again all inputs are to be welcomed.
Those who would like to get involved in the initiative can contact Margaret O’Brien on email@example.com.