Coronavirus business update: Latest news across the North West

Chris Shirling-Rooke in the pod

Industry body Mersey Maritime is resuming small business meetings at its Wirral headquarters after installing COVID-safe technology and processes.

Mersey Maritime, which has hundreds of member firms and represents the Liverpool city region’s £4bn maritime sector, has put new measures in place to protect staff and visitors to its Birkenhead base, close to the river.

Just inside the main entrance of the premises, a ‘Sterilisation POD’ has been installed.

This is a special gate which can measure the temperature of people and then sprays them with a fine antibacterial mist.

Once inside the premises, staff and visitors are subject to strict social distancing and hygiene protocols designed to minimise the risk of COVID-19 transmission. The Sterilisation POD has been supplied by one of its members, Integration Solutions Management (ISM).

Mersey Maritime chief executive Chris Shirling-Rooke said: “We take the safety of our staff and members extremely seriously. We believe we are one of the first offices in the North West to have this technology in place.

“Now the city region, and the country, is looking towards economic recovery, despite the ongoing issues with the pandemic. We are ready to play our part in making sure our ecosystem has a safe environment to work in.”

An ISM spokesman said: “The technology is out there to mitigate the risk of various viruses, not just COVID-19. The POD uses state-of-the-art technology to not only disinfect users, but it can prevent further contamination for up to four hours.

“We‘re seeing businesses taking a lead in protecting their staff and clients.

“The very nature of being an island nation means the maritime and logistics industry is essential in keeping us all fed, fuelled and supplied. ISM is playing our part in this.”

Chris also said: “In recent days we have hosted a couple of business meetings with strictly limited numbers. There is now a real enthusiasm among our members to get back to ‘more normal’ business.

“While there’s no silver bullet to the current crisis affecting all of us in so many different ways, I do feel that industry must move on to the front foot, embracing technology where it can, to start driving the region’s economic recovery.”

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Hilary Meredith

Businesses and commercial landlords in Wilmslow need to work together to save the town’s future, according to a prominent local businesswoman.

Hilary Meredith, founder of Hilary Meredith Solicitors in Wilmslow, says the fabric of the whole town is in peril as businesses across all sectors battle against COVID-19-related restrictions, shifts in consumer behaviour and remote working.

She is calling for urgent talks between landlords and tenants to discuss how the ‘new normal’ impacts on commercial leases, with demand for virtual offices and flexible working spaces likely to increase in the coming months.

She said: “The working world has changed beyond all recognition and so, too, has the commercial property market.

“While retailers and licensed premises face the biggest pressures and restrictions, office-based businesses are also operating in a totally different way.

“The rise in home working due to the pandemic has created a long-term shift in workers’ expectations with people looking to flexible working to create more balance between their personal and professional lives. Office-based businesses won’t require as much space in the future. Instead, there will be greater demand for flexible working spaces and virtual offices.”

She added: “When it comes to commercial leases and COVID-19, there are all sorts of potential legal issues such as termination, force majeure and frustration. But right now, the bigger picture is more important than black letter law.

“The commercial reality of COVID-19 is that many tenants will not be able to pay their rent as it falls due.

“Landlords need to be pragmatic and engage with tenants looking to downsize and share space if necessary – otherwise they are going to find themselves with a lot of empty properties on the other side of this. But tenants need to be realistic, too. It’s a two-way process. Our town is in unchartered waters. No-one wants it to sink.”

Hilary is offering to chair an initial zoom discussion between all interested parties.

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Paul Cherpeau

Business leaders across the North have called for immediate action to avoid catastrophic consequences for the region’s visitor economy.

They have written to the Chancellor and Health Secretary calling for urgent and immediate support for the sector.

While support is being coordinated locally and regionally, restrictions imposed centrally are “confusing and unenforceable”, they say.

They claim hospitality and retail are facing a full lockdown situation, as households cannot mix in indoor settings across the North West and North of England.

An emergency package of support is needed to help the sector to sustain itself through what will be a massive economic shock.

The letter, which has been signed by Liverpool BID chief executive Bill Addy, Liverpool Chamber of Commerce chief executive Paul Cherpeau, Manchester Hoteliers’ Association chair Adrian Ellis, and Manchester Chamber of Commerce chief execugtive Clive Memmott, said people need to be made aware that the previously, slowly, recovering visitor economy is in real danger.

It says: “Without an appropriate level of intervention, there will not be a hospitality sector as we know it.

“There are many businesses across the North that will soon close and others desperately seeking ways of continuing to trade.”

The signatories say the imposition of the 10:00pm curfew is having a damaging impact on the sector and appeal to government to review it in the light of its effect on the hospitality industry and the resultant job losses.

“In some areas of the North, a further and critical blow is about to be dealt to bars, restaurants and hotels.

“The imposition of measures banning household mixing in indoor venues – and the potential for additional measures of societal restrictions – would leave our hospitality and retail sectors in the equivalent of a full lockdown situation leaving many unable to continue trading for the foreseeable future.

“Decisive and immediate action is required – listen to and support businesses and people on the ground and engage properly with local authorities to provide targeted economic support,” the business leaders add.

They want the Government to take heed of the representations made by leaders of thie biggest Northern conurbations, saying an emergency package of support is essential to enable the visitor economy to sustain itself through this next economic shock and emerge in a position of relative strength in the post-COVID period.

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