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Survey suggests B.C. businesses’ confidence on shaky ground

Roughly one in three B.C. businesses on government support expect things to return to normal once programs end.

That’s the findings of a survey of 1,401 member-businesses of the BC Chamber of Commerce, Greater Vancouver Board of Trade, Business Council of British Columbia, and other partners.

While British Columbia has entered phase three of its Restart Plan, two-thirds, or 65 per cent, of businesses surveyed are using some form of government support. 

Businesses expect a substantial “second wave” of negative impacts should these programs expire too quickly.

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Only about three-in-ten businesses (28 per cent) on government support expect to return to normal once the programs end. 

Of the remainder, 32 per cent expect to reduce employee hours, 27 per cent expect to lay-off or terminate employees, and 24 per cent anticipate taking on debt. 

One-in-ten will have to close either temporarily or permanently.

The survey was conducted with help from the Mustel Group. 

This survey is the fourth in a series of pulse checks using the platform.

As the province works on its $1.5 billion recovery plan, businesses are not particularly confident that the recovery plan will help their business succeed or survive. 

Only 16 per cent are confident, compared to 47 per cent that are not confident.

Businesses say the most important components of the recovery plan are providing payroll or wage supports and reducing taxes and fees. Cutting red tape, creating better investment conditions, direct cash flow support, and making regulations more efficient are other notable suggestions.

Other Key Findings

  • Of businesses that work in an office setting, 43 per cent are currently working in an office, with the remainder working remotely (42 per cent) or some other way (16 per cent).
  • Over half see employees returning to the office by the end of the year (58 per cent for whom the question is applicable) but 29 per cent do not expect a return until 2021 and 15 per cent do not ever see a return to pre-COVID levels.
  • The key barriers to getting employees back to the office or workplace are physical distancing requirements (38 per cent) employees’ reluctance to return to the workplace due to safety concerns at the workplace (35 per cent) and to a slightly lesser extent getting to and from work (22 per cent). 
  • There is some concern among businesses regarding the clarity and simplicity of health and safety requirements to reopen, each being rated an average of approximately ‘3’ or lower (‘5’ being ‘very easy’ and ‘1’ being ‘extremely difficult’) by 40-50%.
  • The most common lasting changes noted are increased reliance on digital means for communications, meetings, etc. (55%), and expanding or implementing work at home policies (44%). Considerable proportions also expect to reduce the number of employees at the workplace (31%), and reduce their office space needs (22%).
  • Among businesses who travel, the majority do not expect to return to business travel until 2021 or when a vaccine is available. In fact, just over half do not expect to return to pre-COVID levels until after a vaccine has been found (35%) or ever (16%).

BC Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, Val Litwin, said policy-makers and politicians “must stay sensitive to how vulnerable BC businesses are today.”

“Entrepreneurs are waking up to the reality that their new operating environment is more costly and fraught with risk,” Litwin said. 

“A bold economic recovery plan that helps small businesses compete is a non-negotiable for a prosperous BC – and when small businesses thrive so do communities and people. Governments must keep focussed on delivering their recovery plans swiftly.” 

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