West Sussex Growers Association says speed is of the essence to help nurseries during coronavirus pandemic

WSGA has updated its coronavirus guidance and policy.

Image: HW
Image: HW

1. Financial Support – Speed is of the Essence

CBILS – Loans – It is essential that Government gives absolute clarity to Banks that horticultural businesses qualify for these loans and that Banks act with speed when our businesses request financial assistance.

CIBILS – Eligibility – Banks have been advised that horticulture businesses, as part of agriculture, are subject to state aid rules and may only be eligible for up to £4 million (80% of £5million). This is clearly not the case as the vast majority of UK horticultural businesses do not receive any subsidies.

CIBILS – Repayment Terms – Due to the devastating financial impact on many horticultural businesses not being able to trade during the current crisis, repayment terms should be extended to 10 years from the current 6 years.

Payment Holidays – Members should also approach all their finance sources for payment holidays, including leasing firms. 

We welcome the announcement for grants for the self-employed, as the horticulture industry employs a large number of self-employed people, but we are concerned that payments will only be based on their element of profit and will not start until June.

We welcome the fact that businesses can delay payments of VAT and to HMRC.

2. Staff, Key Workers & Agencies

While anyone involved in food production is an essential worker, the Secretary of State has reiterated the Government line that if you can’t do your job from home you can go to work, as long as social distancing is practised. This means that horticultural jobs such as food production, packhouse operations and care of plants (watering & maintenance of crops) should continue.

According to the NFU; the Government has confirmed that furloughed workers are eligible to collect wages with a second job. Further details to follow.

Great care needs to be taken where car and mini-bus sharing is taking place between staff. Also, additional care measures need to be taken where staff are living in shared caravans and caravan sites and/or using canteens and other shared facilities.

West Sussex Growers’ Association is operating a shared “Labour Availability” spreadsheet where those businesses with surplus staff can offer them to those with shortages.

West Sussex Growers’ Association is also operating a “Worker Availability” service on the website: www.https//wsga.co.uk People looking for work can leave their contact details there and we will endeavour to link them to horticultural businesses in the area with vacancies.

A “Pick for Britain” campaign is being launched by the NFU. Further details to follow.

3. Compensation Scheme & the re-opening of garden centres

The NFU & HTA have put forward proposals to Defra for a Perishable Goods Compensation Scheme that would be particularly helpful to the hard-pressed ornamental sector of horticulture.

As soon as is practically possible, WSGA asks Government to prioritise the re-opening of garden centres for plant sales only. It is believed that adequate social distancing procedures can be sensibily managed at garden centres.

4. Supply Chain & Logistics

Ornamentals – Sales of garden and bedding plants from commercial growers to garden centres and the sheds have almost completely stopped and most nurseries are running on skeleton staff. The sales of house plants seem to be running at about 40% of normal.

Edibles – Sales are generally holding up fairly well, but daily orders from key customers are extremely volatile due to disruption to the supply chain.

Transport costs are rising rapidly, especially from Spain.

Requests are being made to Stagecoach (bus company) to see if they can accommodate additional stops nearer to nurseries.

Online and home delivery operations are increasing across the board; but compared to normal volume supplies to supermarkets, sheds and garden centres, these numbers are very small.

5. Police Checks

There are now many reports of police checks on the movement of people, especially people in cars on their way to and from work. Employers should give ID papers to workers stating that they are needed as essential workers.

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