After months of lockdown and no customers, many independent traders in Bath are struggling to catch up.
With a current, greatly diminished tourist industry, it also means less footfall is coming into the city and sales are greatly reduced.
Francesca Addabbo, one of the owners of The Real Italian Pizza and Ice Cream Companies and also Pink Art, said: “I have not had a day off since March 21st as we are trying everything to keep the businesses afloat.
“Times are so tough for us right now and there is a total lack of empathy from the council here in Bath.
“They don’t seem to understand the shortfall in our income and what that actually means for jobs. Something is going to have to give.
“At the moment, we are expected to pay full rent for the months when we were in lockdown. The council does not seem to realise that there will be a lot more problems for Bath if shops and businesses close. They could make such a difference to us if they would offer some help with rent relief.
“We feel very abandoned by them and I personally feel really sad that people are in this situation through no fault of their own.
“Unfortunately, we have not been able to reopen our Pink Art shop as we can’t afford to and we will have to keep it closed for the time being. The council has so far refused any sort of arrangement for us, even saying they will be adding interest charges on unpaid rent.
“If the council won’t engage with us, then there will be many empty premises and they will have no income from us at all. It’s very short-sighted.”
She added: “We have staff that we feel very responsible for and we really appreciate all that they do, they are our priority, and this is the same with other businesses too.
“A further nail in our coffin, is the fact the Bath Christmas Market is not opening this year. All we want is some recognition of what we are dealing with and a way forward with help from the council.”
Sally Marks, owner of French Grey, said: “I still have three years left on my lease, and I can’t see me renewing it without some sort of help from the council now.
“I’d offer half price to the end of the year, but they don’t seem willing to look at that.
“What worries me after furlough ends, is it just might be easier to close and I would hate that to be the case. I have fabulous staff working for me and I have a duty to them.
“We are already offering 20% off everything, but are just getting a marginal profit. Businesses can’t continue this way and that would be a real shame for Bath. I would hate to see the High Street disappearing.”
Owner of the Orange Grove Gift Shop, Fincho Gurung, like others in that area, is also dealing with the impact of the Abbey Church work, on top of falling sales due to lockdown.
She echoed the thoughts of many independent businesses, saying: “We have been asking for help and nobody has even been to talk to us to see if we are surviving.
“We’ve lost four to five months trading and it seems like they don’t care about us, nobody there is listening.”
She went further saying that: “I know that some private landlords have reduced rent payments, why can’t the council help us out? How long, in reality, can we continue like this?
“My gift shop helps promote and sell things produced by local people, what would that mean for some of them if I went out of business? The council is failing to see the importance of the independent traders in Bath. They need to work with us, not against us.
“These are very hard times and it scares me where we are going.”
In response, Councillor Richard Samuel, Cabinet Member for Resources, said: “We are acutely aware of the pressure many of our tenants are under so we have been looking at ways that we can help to add to the financial support already provided.
“Anymore we do will need to be carefully considered as we all strive to recover from the financial impact of Covid-19.
“Since the lockdown we have delivered more than £40m in Business Support Grants to more than 3,000 businesses. As a council we too face huge pressure on our budget which is why it is a fine balancing act.
“Our 2020/21 budget projected income from commercial properties is already expected to be down by up to £8m and we need to ensure losses do not increase above that figure.
“There are still businesses in Bath that have not accessed some of the schemes that are available to them. We’ve had less than 100% not applying for the government-backed schemes.
“We are currently in the process of sending out letters to all council business tenants encouraging them to come forward as they need to access the money that maybe available to them.
“Some small businesses are in discussions with us already about how we can arrange rental payments. We too have to balance our books and have a duty to ensure other services are maintained by us for the wider public.
“Everyone is concerned about what will happen when the chancellor ends the furlough scheme and what that means for people’s jobs, we are not excluded from that.”
Wera Hobhouse, Liberal Democrat member of parliament for Bath, said: “These are difficult times for so many businesses.
“I know that the Council is doing everything it can to support its tenants. It has distributed more than £40 million in direct grants to local businesses.
“The Government measures to support people have helped many, but this support has been inconsistent and, in some cases, incoherent. Certain sectors, such as barbers and hairdressers, have been allowed to re-open, while the others, like the beauty sector, has not been able to resume business.
“The Government must address this lack of consistency and give further support to local authorities so that they can more fully help the entire community, including businesses, during these challenging times.”
Cheryl Hughes, Community Reporter