How the four nations view life after lockdown

We look at the state of play across the four nations for exiting lockdown.

Lockdown restrictions are easing gradually over the next few weeks and months with businesses across the UK making tentative plans to reopen. But there are significant regional differences in what lockdown roadmaps look like across the four devolved nations.

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In England for instance, most people know that June 21st is the earliest date at which all Covid-19 related restrictions are set to cease (assuming infection rates haven’t risen), but specific rules for each stage can be confusing for many businesses.

Here are the main differences between the four UK nations:

England

  • Lockdown is set to end on the 29th March.
  • Non-essential retail, (outdoor) hospitality and beauty services set to reopen from 12th April, along with outdoor tourist attractions.
  • Six people or two households can meet indoors from 17th May while indoor entertainment services and tourist attractions and holiday accommodation can reopen.
  • All Covid-19-related restrictions including social distancing set to end on June 21st.

Wales

Up until Friday (12th March) no roadmap out of lockdown existed for Wales, but the Welsh Government  has now announced the following:

  • Four people from two households can meet outdoors from 13th March.
  • Primary schools will reopen 15th March as well as secondary schools for pupils in exam years.
  • Non-essential retail can begin to reopen from 22nd March but gyms, hospitality will remain closed.
  • The ‘stay at home’ message is set to end by 27th March, depending on infection rates.

Scotland

  • Four people from two households can meet outdoors from 15th March.
  • The country is expected to stay in lockdown until 5th April.  
  • From 26th April, a ‘phased but significant’ reopening of the economy including non-essential retail, hospitality and beauty services.

Northern Ireland

The blueprint out of lockdown relies on health factors rather than key dates and focuses on nine sectors each with five stages of lockdown easing depending on infection rates. The nine sectors include:

  • Home and community
  • Education and young people
  • Work
  • Retail
  • Hospitality
  • Sport and leisure
  • Culture and entertainment
  • Travel and tourism
  • Worship and ceremonies.

We asked several accountants across the UK how confident their clients are about when and how they can reopen their businesses.

ENGLAND: Businesses are clear when they can reopen although dates aren’t set in stone

Paul Reed, owner, Reed&Co
Although we receive several phone calls from clients asking when they are allowed to open, we feel the government’s roadmap provides an excellent outline on when businesses can reopen and what guidelines need to be followed.

For us here in England the information is clear, although the dates aren’t set in stone.

So our clients are planning to open up at the dates provided to us by the government, but the general understanding is that they could very well change and are clients are prepared for this.

Next steps: we recommend the following before reopening your business:

  • Undertake a Risk Assessment
  • Consider the layout of your premises, for example, 2 metre markings and one-way flow
  • Speak to suppliers: It’s important to plan how and when goods and supplies arrive at your premises.

Verdict: Clients are clear when they can reopen their businesses but they should ensure infection control measures in place when they do.

SCOTLAND: Untangling guidance from Holyrood and Westminster has been difficult for some Scottish-based businesses

Rosalind Catto, Inverness office head & business advisory partner, Johnston Carmichael

There has certainly been no shortage of information and guidance issued to businesses in recent weeks. However, keeping up with the regularly shifting deadlines and the often-nuanced nature of the advice can be challenging. For Scottish businesses, there is also the additional complication of untangling Westminster guidance from Holyrood guidance – especially for companies with a foot in both camps.

Overall, we’re finding businesses have learnt lessons from the experience of reopening last summer, allowing them to better prepare for the process this time around. This means that, for most, it should just be a case of tweaking the processes they put in place last year.

Next steps: It remains vital that companies are aware of the latest grants and support packages that are available to them. On top of this, it’s going to be vital that businesses make themselves as efficient as possible to ensure they are in the best possible position for reopening their doors.

Verdict: Shifting deadlines and untangling guidance from both Holywood and Westminster has been challenging but many businesses are better prepared having learned lessons from last summer.

WALES: Clients are cautious given the frequent sudden changes in the region

Claire Owen-Jones MAAT, Loud and Clear Accounting

The challenge with the Welsh roadmap compared to the English one is that most of our milestones are “possibly”, “may” and “review”. This along with our history of sudden local lockdowns or changes to the rules with short notice, can make everything feel far more uncertain and harder to prepare for.

For this reason, my clients are nervous. They’ve been burnt before, whether it’s through previous re-openings cut short when local lockdowns have cut them off from their clientele. Or had food and drink stock wasted when opening hours have been changed with little notice (one Monday they were told that from Friday they were banned from selling alcohol and couldn’t open to customers after 6pm). 

Everyone is desperate to re-open. Most are applying for any grant they can find primarily to pay their rent, which for most hasn’t stopped, and that is a stressful situation to be in. 

Next steps: Clients have their premises ready in terms of social distancing and cleaning. They just need to footfall and for their customers to return. Some had to make the decision to close earlier than lockdowns have dictated as there just wasn’t the footfall to cover the employees wages/costs. So it’s the balance between being allowed to be open and for people to actually want to return.

Verdict: A history of sudden changes have made clients sceptical of any roadmap.

Mark Rowland is a journalist and former editor of Accounting Technician and 20 magazine.

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