Thu | Dec 3, 2020

COVID shutters a third of small businesses - Call renewed for grants, loans to keep enterprises afloat

Published:Thursday | October 22, 2020 | 2:33 PMEdmond Campbell/Senior Staff Reporter

With a membership of more than 300, the Small Business Association of Jamaica (SBAJ) says a recent survey it conducted has revealed that 35 per cent of its business operators have closed their doors owing to the crippling effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The SBAJ survey has also revealed that around 60 per cent of the persons employed to these small businesses have lost their jobs.

President of the SBAJ Michael Leckie says small businesses are suffering at this time and that without targeted assistance from the Government, many more businesses will face closure.

“What we need now is for us to have a stimulus, and we need grant funding and zero per cent interest rate to really boost the sector because working capital has been eroded, and our savings have been eroded,” Leckie revealed in a Gleaner interview.

“We are going to need help, and this can only come through a partnership between small businesses and the Government,” he added.

He argued that with many persons touting the development of small businesses as a key driver in the push for increased job creation and economic growth, it was critical for the Government and small businesses to have dialogue on the way forward.

“The cries are getting louder each day, and what the Government does not want is to have the confidence level fall any further because the backbone is small-business people,” he reasoned.

At a meeting of the SBAJ on Tuesday, Leckie said that one of the urgent issues raised by small-business owners was the curfews imposed by the Government to curtail the spread of COVID-19 and the impact it was having on their businesses.

“Allow us to close a little later with the condition that the authorities do their checks to ensure that the protocols are being observed.

“We are willing to be a part of the commitment to make sure that all protocols are observed within longer opening hours,” Leckie appealed to the authorities on behalf of small-business operators.

At present, the Government has imposed a 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew until November 1. Prime Minister Andrew Holness, in a statement to the House of Representatives earlier this month, signalled that he would relax measures for the upcoming holidays if Jamaicans complied with the restrictions for the Heroes Weekend.

Leckie said that small-business operators are urging the Government to give them an additional hour - up to 10 p.m. - while bar operators are lobbying for an 11 p.m. closure.

The SBAJ president also expressed concern over the dip in both business and consumer confidence in the third quarter.

The Jamaica Chamber of Commerce reported this week that both business and consumer confidence indices had declined as the economy continues to reel from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the surveys, business confidence dipped from 115.4 in the second quarter to 109.2. At the same time, consumer confidence plunged from 165.2 in the second quarter to 135.3.

edmond.campbell@gleanerjm.com