The British Furniture Confederation has been highly active since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic, with weekly, then fortnightly online meetings of the executive, to feedback on the effect of the crisis on industry and develop a dialogue with government to ensure their awareness of that effect.
The following is a summary of that activity.
Weekly calls with Paul Scully MP, Minister for Small Businesses, Consumers and Labour Markets
As part of the BFC’s ongoing engagement with BEIS, the BFC Chairman, Jonathan Hindle, has been attending weekly calls with Paul Scully MP. Mr Scully is the Minister for Small Businesses, Consumers and Labour Markets. In the calls, Mr Hindle has raised a range of issues with the minister including the lack of flexibility in the CJRS, extending the Business Rates holiday to manufacturing businesses and commercial space, options for generating demand for British furniture and furnishings, and increasing access to Government and public sector contracts for British furniture and furnishings businesses.
Ongoing engagement with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
The BFC continues to liaise with BEIS on a regular basis at both Ministerial and Civil Servant levels. The BFC has raised concerns with civil servants about the Government’s communications regarding stores reopening and the need for a clear definition from government of ‘Homeware’.
Other communications with Government have covered issues such as Safer Working Guidance, reports on the Coronavirus Job Retention Schemes, redundancies within the industry and the need for a Business Rates holiday extension.
Letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the Business Rates Extension
BFC Chairman, Jonathan Hindle, wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 25 March 2020 suggesting that, as a solution to the cashflow problems faced by businesses in the furniture and furnishings industry, the Government should extend Business Rates Relief offered to the furniture and furnishings industry.
As the Government had introduced new measures to support businesses, such as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, Trade Credit Insurance Guarantee and the Bounce Back Loans Scheme, the BFC outlined how an extension of the Business Rates Relief to the sector was necessary to support a significant manufacturing industry through the challenges of COVID-19.
Letters to MPs with constituencies containing a cluster of furniture businesses
On 3 April 2020, Jonathan Hindle wrote to nearly 40 Members of Parliament who had a significant number of furniture businesses in their constituency. In his letter, he outlined the range of issues faced by furniture businesses as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. Mr Hindle asked that the MPs petition the Government to support a Business Rates holiday extension which would help businesses cope with cash flow challenges caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.
Correspondence with the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
The Chairman of the BFC wrote to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, on 15 April 2020, raising a series of concerns the furniture and furnishings industry had with the support being offered to manufacturers.
Mr Hindle stated that manufacturers had been hurt by a rapid decline in orders from retailers as stores closed and that this was further exacerbated by retailers ceasing the delivery of furniture as it required two-man delivery teams. Furthermore, Mr Hindle told the Secretary of State that the hospitality furniture sector, a key purchaser of contract furniture, had seen a similar decline in orders.
Additionally, Mr Hindle highlighted the BFC’s call for the Government to help the furniture and furnishings industry by broadening the 12-month Business Rates holiday, currently extended to the retail and hospitality sectors.
Assistance with PPE deliveries
On 21 April 2020, following communications from a number of furniture businesses and the Furniture Makers’ Company, the BFC wrote to the Government offering to assist in delivering essential PPE. The BFC suggested that it could act to co-ordinate the considerable capacity of the industry to make deliveries, in particular, at a time when many delivery drivers were unable to work due to the lockdown restrictions.
Report on the Impact of COVID-19 on the Furniture and Furnishings Industry
On 30 April 2020, the All-Party Parliamentary Furniture Industry Group (APPFIG) hosted an inquiry seeking to understand the impact of COVID-19 on the furniture and furnishings industry. The Inquiry, and subsequent report, has informed the work of the British Furniture Confederation (BFC) and the work of the Members of Parliament who took part in the Inquiry.
The Inquiry heard from a range of witnesses representing the furniture and furnishings industry who outlined the problems they were facing with the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS), accessing Government and public sector procurement contracts, the availability of trade credit insurance and the lack of clarity surrounding Government communications.
Subsequent to the Inquiry’s Oral Evidence session on 30 April, the Government announced the extension of the CJRS as well as the introduction of greater flexibility and additional support to aide businesses in accessing trade credit insurance. Furthermore, on 27 April 2020, the Government announced the Business Bounce Back Loans in response to some of the criticism levelled at the CBILS.
Letters to minister on support for the hospitality sector supply chain
On 2 June 2020, the BFC Chairman, Jonathan Hindle, wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport regarding the Government’s support for suppliers of furniture and furnishings to the hospitality sector.
In his letter, Mr Hindle stated that the Government should extend the furlough support and recently announced flexible furloughing from the end of October to 31 December 2020. Additionally, the Government should give Business Rates relief to furniture and furnishings suppliers till the end of Q1 2021. Providing Business Rates Relief would remove a significant fixed cost and greatly help manufacturers in the furniture industry to manage their cash flows and retain their workers.
BCFA, NBF and BFM Survey Results
In early August. the BFC provided BEIS with the results of surveys conducted during July by the British Contract Furnishing Association (BCFA), the NBF and BFM. The survey results will help inform Civil Servants of the current status of the furniture industry and its views of how it expects to perform and restructure over the coming few months, to help them accurately brief Ministers.
The Department is eager to gather as much intelligence on the status of the industry as possible on how the sector has been impacted by COVID-19. In addition to regular engagement with Civil Servants and Ministers, the BFC continues to submit updates on the status of the industry as they are required.
BFC’s ‘Buy British Furniture Event’ to help stimulate demand into the autumn
The ‘Buy British Furniture Event’ will be a month-long initiative promoting British home furnishings in Autumn 2020. The campaign will promote a ‘Buy the Best, Buy British, Save Jobs’ message for retailers to use online and in-store from 19 September to 18 October.
The Buy British Furniture Event is targeted at the domestic retail sector and the event will highlight to customers which products have been made in Britain, using a red, white and blue logo for use on swing tags, posters, and webpages.
The ‘Buy British Furniture Event’ is a British Furniture Confederation (BFC) scheme, which is being organised and promoted by the British Furniture Manufacturers Association (BFM) and the National Bed Federation (NBF).
The BFC has provided information on the campaign to Ministers and civil servants in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) as well as the All-Party Parliamentary Furniture Industry Group.
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