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The Latest news from Dumfries and Galloway Chamber of Commerce -

Keep up to date with the latest news and stories from across Dumfries & Galloway.

 

STENA LINE JOB LOSSES “DEEPLY WORRYING”, SAYS LOCAL MSP

The news that ferry firm Stena Line is to furlough 600 employees and make 150 redundant across Britain and Ireland has been described as “deeply worrying” by South Scotland MSP and Scottish Labour Transport Spokesperson Colin Smyth.

The company employs about 2,500 people in the UK and Ireland, including a total of 950 staff on its sailings from Northern Ireland to Liverpool, Heysham and Cairnryan near Stranraer in South West Scotland.

 

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Colin Smyth said: “This announcement is deeply worrying for Stena’s workforce at Cairnryan. I know from my discussions with Stena that initially passenger numbers and freight movements did hold up better than maybe could have been expected between Cairnryan and Belfast. 

“At the beginning, many people were relocating before the lockdown and freight was doing well due to higher demand in our supermarkets, so a full service was running. However, this downturn has been coming. 

“I had hoped the company could have furloughed workers rather than moved to any redundancies, so job losses are a real blow to the economy and my thoughts are very much with any staff affected and their families. 

“With no end in sight for the Covid-19 pandemic and a long road back for companies, we need to brace ourselves for the possibility that there could be more job losses on the way. 

“It hammers home again that the economic support from Government is simply not going to scratch the surface of the economic tsunamis hitting the region in the weeks and months ahead and more will be required if the local economy is to avoid collapse. 

“This needs to be a wakeup call to both the Scottish and UK Governments that our area needs action to save jobs now.”

Dumfries and Galloway businesses urged to tighten security as employees work from home

Businesses in Dumfries and Galloway are being advised to put in place stricter rules around passwords to protect staff and systems, as the country switches to home-working amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Following UK Government advice for businesses to work from home where possible, due to the rise in cases of COVID-19, the Scottish Business Resilience Centre (SBRC) is warning employers how this can increase an organisation’s vulnerability to cyber-attacks.

This was demonstrated just weeks into the COVID-19 outbreak, with scammers already capitalising on fear and system frailties, and scams relating to the virus costing UK businesses nearly £970,000.

SBRC is advising businesses to quickly and easily increase their security by using password manager software and implementing a two-factor authentication.

Declan Doyle, Ethical Hacking Consultant at SBRC, said: “We’ve seen a huge increase in the number of phishing scams since the outbreak of the virus – including fraudulent emails targeting businesses about fake Government tax rebates and Coronavirus funding.

“Criminals are very smart, and as much as we can find, identify and shut down scams, the best course of action is to tell people what to look out for and give them advice to follow to minimise the risk of falling victim to these traps. Increasing your online security is one way to do this.”

 

 

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Eamonn Keane, Chief Operating Officer for Cyber and Innovation at SBRC, said: “The last thing any business battling the impact of coronavirus needs right now is a crippling cyber-attack.

“The prospect of thousands of temporary home workers, potentially accessing a range of vital business servers and applications from vulnerable home internet connections, or using old or inadequate laptops or PCs, is a scary one.

“One of the easiest ways for businesses to avoid cyber-attacks is to set up a password manager to secure, store and generate passwords for your team which can be accessed across various devices.

“Attackers use different techniques beyond hacking to discover passwords, including phishing, automated guessing using the most commonly-used passwords, manual guessing and intercepting networks. Password managers and two-factor authentication can easily put a stop to a lot of these tactics.”

Andy Maclaren, Head of IT Services at SBRC partner, Consider IT, said: “Password managers typically generate a long, secure and unique password for each website a user logs into, avoiding reusing passwords across different websites.

“This way, if a particular website’s database is hacked or leaked, attackers won’t be able to use the same log in details to access all of the other services your email address has signed up to.”

Two-factor authentication asks users for their password as normal, but also asks users to provide a second piece of information such as a code sent to an email address, or a fingerprint scan on a phone.

Eamonn added: “Two-factor authentication is just another way of ‘double-checking’ you are who you’re claiming to be when you’re logging into business accounts – meaning even if someone hacks or gains access to your password, they won’t necessarily be able to access your accounts.

“At SBRC, we endeavour to maintain Scotland’s reputation as a safe place to do business, so we will do everything we can to keep our partners, members and the public as up to date as possible in these uncertain and ever-changing times.”


The Scottish Business Resilience Centre is a non-profit organisation which exists to support and help protect Scottish Businesses.

To ensure Scotland remains a safe place to live, work and do business, SBRC will be regularly sharing COVID-19 developments and advice from Scottish Government, their partners and members as they happen.

Over the coming weeks SBRC will be holding a series of 60-minute webinars aimed at helping Scottish businesses prepare and survive the human and commercial impacts of COVID-19.

SBRC maintains a unique connection to Police Scotland, Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and Scottish Government, which gives the organisation exclusive access to the latest information to advise citizens and businesses how to interact safely.

MSP APPEALS TO PUBLIC TO BE RESPONSIBLE WHEN WALKING IN COUNTRYSIDE

South Scotland MSP and Scottish Labour’s Rural Economy Spokesperson Colin Smyth has appealed to the public, in particular dog owners, to be responsible when out walking in the countryside near their homes as lambing season gets underway.

 

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The local MSP revealed that he has had a growing number of complaints from farmers that more and more people are choosing to take their daily service in local fields, and in some cases through busy farmyards, causing additional stress to livestock. 

Colin Smyth is urging dog walkers in particular to keep their pets on a lead and away from sheep and lambs during walks.

Colin Smyth said: “I know more and more people are trying to get out and about as part of a daily exercise regime, especially in good weather, but everyone needs to be responsible. 

“There is no excuse whatsoever to take dogs off a lead near sheep or lambs. If a dog scares a sheep or attacks one, it is highly likely the lamb will be lost. 

“I have even had cases reported to me of mis-mothering due to the stress placed on the sheep by an increase in walkers. People should also avoid walking through busy farmyards. These are dangerous working environments where local farmers are doing their bit to keep food in our shops. We need to let them get on with that job in safety. 

“I have had calls from some farmers groups to urge the Government to suspend the current right to roam laws. That however would take legislation and would penalise people who are being sensible and vigilant. 

“But I have written to the Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing urging the Government to step up messaging on the need for people to be vigilant and to make clear that if any member of the public witnesses irresponsible behaviour to report it to the police who will take action.”

McALPINE WARNS THAT SMALL BUSINESSES COULD BE MISSING OUT ON EMERGENCY FUNDS

Businesses in Dumfries and Galloway could miss out on emergency grants if they fail to apply, local MSP Joan McAlpine has said. The South Scotland MSP appealed to local businesses to apply for the Scottish Government grants to help them through the corona crisis. Her call follows the release of figures from Dumfries and Galloway council which show that fewer than half of eligible companies have so far applied for the payments.

Local firms could be missing out on cash sums worth up to £25,000 and the MSP is asking business owners to check if they qualify.

 

Joan McAlpine MSP

Commenting, Ms McAlpine says,

“Figures put out by Dumfries and Galloway Council on Friday show that 48% of firms who are eligible for the £25,000 have sent in applications but just 39% of firms that are eligible for grants of £10,000 have applied. This means more than half of all qualifying businesses could be missing out.

“Although some companies might be intending to apply in the near future, some still might not know about the scheme or perhaps they think they’re not eligible. So I’m urging any business owner to or call the council’s dedicated helpline on 01387 260280 (Mon-Fri 9am - 5pm) to find out if they qualify. You don’t need to repay any grant you receive, it’s not a loan.

“Most small businesses who were in receipt of the Small Business Bonus Scheme and Rural Relief can get a one-off grant of £10,000. Retail, hospitality and leisure businesses with a rateable value between £18,001 and up to and including £51,000 will be able to apply for a one-off grant of £25,000. You can also get this grant if you applied for Nursery Relief, Business Growth Accelerator Relief, Disabled Relief or Fresh Start but are eligible for the Small Business Bonus Scheme.

“Self-catering accommodation and caravans are eligible for a grant if their business is a primary source of income for the ratepayer (one third or more), and their accommodation was let out for 140 days or more in financial year 2019-20.

“Please pass this information on to any small business owner who you think might be struggling, this money is here to help them and it would be awful if any went under because they didn’t know about it.”

OPINION: Hotelier Chris Walker asks Does "We'll do everything it takes"​ actually mean "We'll let you go to the wall?"​

OPINION: Hotelier Chris Walker offers his thoughts on how unfair the small grant scheme is and how it has hung many hoteliers, restauranteurs and retailers out to dry.

 

 

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A Hotelier’s perspective 

Everything is going to change after the Covid 19 pandemic, some of us will survive in business some of us won’t - its going to have a massive effect on unemployment going forward, a massive effect on monies coming into local councils from rates and other revenues, a massive hit to HMRC on Vat and Tax revenues received and in reality the pressure we’ve all been put under up to now has come home to roost. We’ve had to manage auto enrolment and the associated costs, we’ve had to manage a living wage call, we’ve had to manage OTA’s and their greedy commissions shuffled into their off shore tax free havens, we’ve had to manage the consumer expecting more for less, we’ve been frightened to put rates up, frightened to increase menu prices as we’ve been subject to on line offers and group discounting whilst operating costs have gone up around our ears, this virus is now threatening the very livelihoods of many self employed business owners. Naturally the most important consideration in all this is human life and we totally understand the reasons for the lockdown but help is seriously required to save businesses.

What I have found myself doing over the past few days is spiralling into a pit of deep despair as the reality of “We’ll do everything it takes” actually means - we’ll let you go to the wall.

As a local business with 27 staff we find ourselves ineligible for either of the two grants due to our rateable value of £65k at the Hotel and the Cafe business we operate with 5 staff isn't eligible for the £10k grant as it's not in receipt of small business bonus scheme or rural relief ( surely that’s a good thing - we’ve not been taking out of the pot ) in fact over 30 years in business in Dumfries and Galloway we’ve never had a brass bean in a grant from enterprise or visit Scotland - we’ve created a business on the back off hard work and bold risk taking in order to succeed.

So can you imagine how I’m feeling knowing that a 4 bedroom B&B will get £10k and the pub round the corner in town which is just a pub with about 5 staff will get £25k - I’m left to spend my days scrambling about producing cash flows and projections in order to apply for a small business loan - and that’s the elephant in the room – it’s a loan - it needs to be paid back and then to top it all I hear that we might have to borrow in order to pay the 80% furloughed until HMRC are in a position to pay it back. Well that’s not going to happen - why should I borrow when there’s free grants being given out.

Whatever it takes is starting to grate on me now - but maybe there’s a glimmer of hope with the self employment announcement - alas no... it looks like as directors of our limited company neither my wife or I will at present get any help. Here’s what our accountant had to say ... “The latest information that I have seen on the Self-employment Income Support Scheme refers to individuals and partnerships only.”

Ahhh... maybe the insurance company may help ? No - No help there either - Covid 19 isn’t listed as a Pandemic- well of course it isn’t - it didn’t exist last April when I renewed my £6000 per annum policy !! Here’s what my broker had to say

 “I have heard back from NIG and I am really sorry but there would still not be any cover under the policy even if the government does enforce closure. Basically from an Insurers point of view, the risk of a new or different Disease or Illness is too great for them to insure or evaluate and they therefore restrict cover to “Specified Diseases” only. The Coronavirus is a great example of what a new or unevaluated disease can do to businesses and if Insurers were to pick up all losses from Coronavirus that is likely to send them bust.”

So I've lobbied my MP, my MSP, my local councillor, the council officials and still we seem to be no nearer a solution, nearly all just want to kick the can down the street. The one exception is our local councillor Pauline Drysdale, she is fighting as hard as she can to get parity in this unfair grant allocation.

There are businesses locally that have received thousands of pounds in grants to get themselves up and running and they're all getting their £25k payouts, where's the fairness in that ? £25k is a months wages at the hotel and at this very moment it will help offset an ever growing overdraft which is about to max out as we pay suppliers and try and do the right thing, as we always have, look after people. We've paid the wages to date and the majority of our suppliers. Yet there's nobody with our interest at heart, its all the same white noise coming out of every phone call.

So what lies ahead for those in the same boat as me ? Whilst the headlines look good the reality is that we’re on the Titanic and it’s going down fast. Is insolvency an option - possibly, should I look to cut my losses and close the doors and stop the hemorraging of money as our cash flow grinds to a halt ? As there isn’t a penny coming in it looks like we’ve been hung out to dry. I have spoken to many hoteliers in the same boat and we feel very vulnerable especially if this is to go on for months. Cash flow is king and having come through the winter paid our tax, vat and corporation tax along with internal investment in fixtures and fitting we find there’s no cash left in the cow and we’ve fed the beast for many many years and now the feed has all been eaten - the cow will inevitably die, unless we can put some more feed in the trough, we’re just not sure when.