BA calls on government to support sector with retail space 'furloughing'

BA calls on government to support sector with retail space 'furloughing'

The Booksellers Association has written to Chancellor Rishi Sunak asking for a series of measures to support booksellers during the Covid-19 crisis, including allowing retail spaces to be "furloughed" and help to keep the supply chain open. The BA is also asking for sufficient notice of when bookshops will be allowed to reopen.

The letter is signed by Laura McCormack (pictured), the Booksellers Association’s head of policy and public affairs, and highlights that "many" booksellers have seen their turnover fall in excess of 80% since lockdown began.

Acknowledging "the swift action" taken so far by the government to assist businesses, including the business rates holiday, the BA says the "most urgent matter" facing booksellers is how they will find the funds to pay their rent in the coming quarter. While some have been able to come to short-term arrangements with individual landlords, this approach is not sufficient long-term for the sector.

The BA said it joins the British Retail Consortium (BRC) in calling for a government scheme allowing retail spaces to be "furloughed", as seen in other European countries, offering support to those "hardest hit"–whether bookshop, warehouse or distribution centre–"to ensure the industry's survival". The BA posited a sliding scale, in support of the BRC’s model which asks that: “25% of the costs would be paid by government for a drop in turnover between 40%-60%, 50% if the drop in turnover is 60%-80%,rising to 80% for a drop in turnover between 80%-99%, and 100% where a business is not trading at all.”

The BA is also calling on the government to ensure that the book trade supply chain remains operational throughout this crisis, through guidance and assistance from government around access to health and safety advice and PPE [personal protective equipment]. Outlining the problem, the letter reads: "In order for shops to be able to fulfil orders the supply chain needs to remain operational. Sadly, at the moment this is not the case and what we are seeing is a situation where some of our members are seeing demand for books, particularly from the vulnerable groups who are 'shielding', but their shelves are bare." 

Welcoming the opportunity to re-open as soon as it is safe to do so–"especially given the high demand for children’s educational books during the lockdown"–the BA however urged that "adequate notice" is given to booksellers, to allow bookshops to prepare, both in terms of stock and the safety measures that will need to be implemented as lockdown is eased.

"The decision to re-open bookshops and widen access to reading will have a really positive impact on the mental health of communities during this time of social isolation," the letter reads. "To enable this to happen as smoothly as possible, we are asking the government to give shops adequate notice of their ability to re-open. In France retailers have been told one month in advance of the ease in lockdown measures. We would very much like to see similar happen across the UK. This will help give our members time to source stock, implement social distancing protocols for their stores and train staff members in how to operate in this 'new normal'."

Like the Publishers Association, which revealed its top five asks of government last week, the BA is asking government to consider the possibility of “part-furloughing” for staff, as an alternative to furloughing employees altogether, so that booksellers can have staff members return to work on reduced hours while demand increases.

"The Booksellers Association welcomed last week’s announcement extending the Job Retention Scheme until June and we are asking that the help under this scheme in not withdrawn prematurely so as to avoid redundancies in our sector," it said.

A request was also made for detailed guidance on PPE and safety messages for retailers to ensure they are kept safe, and that a public campaign is launched by the government to ensure that consumers are aware of distancing measures being implemented by retailers.

The BA has been offering its members support through its free Business Support Helpine, update bulletins and Zoom bookseller coffee mornings and by encouraging bookshops to promote their ongoing work using the #ChooseBookshops hashtag. It also pledged £30,000 to The Book Trade Charity’s Booksellers Hardship Fund.