Worthing town centre traders could face greater danger once coronavirus lockdown lifted

Worthing’s town centre manager has warned traders could face more danger after the coronavirus lockdown is lifted.

Sharon Clarke, a director of Worthing’s Town Centre Intiative (TCI), said businesses reopening may see costs rise but trade remain stunted.

“Most of the businesses I am talking to can see their way out of lockdown but are concerned about a downturn in business,” she said.

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“Social distancing will mean fewer people allowed in premises, which could mean significantly reduced turnover, while the business costs will stay the same.

Montague Street is deserted

“A business cannot survive if it’s not meeting its costs and operating profitably.”

Adur and Worthing councils have already distributed £25million in small business grants and have urged more traders to seek help.

Many have also used the furlough scheme, retaining their staff while the Government pays 80 per cent of their wages – an initiative Sharon said had helped alleviate cash flow issues.

Businesses still fund the wages initially, but claim it back through HMRC. While delays initially brought issues for traders, many have been able to steady the ship now the scheme is running.

In March, just before the lockdown was announced, Sharon said traders would have to ‘get creative’ to survive. Read more here: Coronavirus: Worthing’s traders facing uncertain futures amid quarantine fears

Sharon said it was too early to say how badly the high street had been affected, but only one business had said it would be unable to reopen so far. Some, she said, may wait until restrictions are lifted even further to open their doors.

Part of the TCI’s remit is keeping the town centre clean and Worthing’s newly deserted streets have allowed the team to carry out deep cleans and steam cleans of streets and furniture.

Sharon said it was vital shoppers felt safe in the town. “The council is leading on a recovery action plan which we will input into, to bring the town back to life and lobby to ensure businesses get the support they need from this plan,” she said.

“It’s still very early and so it’s difficult to plan anything more specific until the Government outlines how lockdown will be eased.

“At this time businesses will need support to understand how they can trade safely and then, when appropriate, for shoppers to be encouraged back into the town. This will be the time when everyone will need to work together.”