Hundreds of thousands of small businesses which fall through the gaps in Government support are on the brink of collapse because of the pandemic and are in desperate need of financial help – which isn't coming.
Many have seen their incomes disappear as a result of lockdown restrictions leading to cancelled bookings and vanished sales. While some industries are being given millions of pounds in support, others are being left high and dry. Business owners countrywide are falling foul of red tape – denied grants as a result of not having business premises, being a company director, recently becoming self-employed or simply being in the 'wrong' industry.
Since The Mail on Sunday highlighted the dire issues facing many small businesses seven days ago, we have been inundated with correspondence from readers.
'It's heartbreaking': Mike Bell and his wife Linda say they have lost £80,000 in bookings on their luxury holiday let on the Pembrokeshire coast
Most are angry they have received little or no state support while others have benefited from the millions of pounds which the Government has poured into some parts of the economy. They come from a broad church of industries and professions. They include tour guides and engineers, musicians and event planners, TV 'runners' and hairdressers, on-course bookmakers and holiday let owners.
Also, outside caterers, driving instructors, consultants, travel agents, carers, tutors, chauffeurs and quantity surveyors.
All believe they have been left out in the proverbial cold.
'There are three million people like me who have had no help from the Government, while I personally know of friends who have been given assistance when they didn't need it,' said one reader.
'Business owners like myself have been hung out to dry,' wrote another. 'With no support we will be forced to close as we are currently haemorrhaging savings and fast going under.'
A few days ago, the Federation of Small Businesses warned that at least 250,000 small businesses would fold without financial help – with the number likely to be far higher.
Longstaff's Travel in Northumberland has been running coaches for almost a century, but its days are numbered without financial support from the Government.
Owner Raymond Wilkinson says: 'In ten months, we've gone from a thriving company to being on the verge of liquidation. Normally we'd be doing everything from school runs, holidays, trips to the theatre and football matches, but our business has gone to almost zero.'
The British coach industry is one of the forgotten industries of the pandemic which, unlike bigger bus companies, has fallen through the support net. While bus operators have been supported by Government grants since the start of lockdown, coach companies have not, due to not being deemed 'essential' nor being classed in the leisure sector even though 80 per cent of coach business comes from tourism.
With coaches costing hundreds of thousands of pounds, businesses have high fixed costs which have to be paid – even though trade has collapsed.
While a mainstay of the leisure industry, they have been told they do not qualify for retail, hospitality and leisure grants.
More than 220 coach operators have gone under since the start of the pandemic with many owners losing their homes as well as their businesses. 'The Government is ignoring us – it's like we don't exist,' says Raymond. 'We've just been turned down for the latest grant as apparently we're not hospitality or leisure but we just can't continue losing money like this.'
Raymond has had to sell his family home and borrow money from friends and family just to keep afloat. But he is about to run out of money. 'Every week we hear about another coach company going under,' he says. 'I just have to hope that the vaccine works and things get back to normal. Without that happening, we will be sunk.'
Candice Mason, of Masons Minibus and Coach Hire in Tring, Hertfordshire, is an active member of Facebook group 'Honk for Hope'. It is campaigning to get more help for the coach industry and has the support of Candice's local Conservative MP, Greg Smith.
She says: 'The Government keeps on saying that it has supported our industry but it hasn't. It's been horrific. So many owners are on the brink and it's had a huge impact on people's mental health.
'Throughout the pandemic we've been transporting children, the elderly and NHS workers. We provide a vital service but in terms of financial support we've fallen through the cracks.'
Telecoms specialist Lee Thompson missed out on any state help because he set up his Leicester- based IT business QosCore in February last year – one month before lockdown.
With fixed costs for equipment and software licences, and with all but one of his planned contracts cancelled, Lee has already burnt through his savings and is several months in arrears with his business rent.
He says: 'I didn't qualify for the Government's self-employment income support scheme; I couldn't furlough myself; I couldn't access the grants; and now when I quote for work I'm being undercut by people who are on furlough.
'The only thing that's keeping me going is the belief that my business will one day be a success.'
For many people excluded from help, the bitter irony is that they work in the hospitality sector, yet are not classed in the way pubs and restaurants are. As a result, they are unable to access hospitality grants.
Events manager Nigel Greaves is among them. He says 'There are so many businesses and services directly involved in hospitality who are being ignored and I'm one of them. I haven't had an income since March last year and I'm just desperately trying to keep my business going.'
His Surrey-based company NGA Events usually generates annual revenue of £1.3million – booking hotels, conference venues and organising events for clients. But business has dried up, staff have all been furloughed and as a director paid by company dividends Nigel does not qualify for financial support. He says: 'As a self-employed entrepreneur who built a thriving business from scratch 30 years ago I have always paid my taxes. I now feel neglected.
'As a result I am faced with the potential threat of winding up the business and ruining the livelihoods of my staff through no fault of my own. Last year was supposed to be our best ever – yet I am burning through my savings just to stay afloat.'
Former publican Mike Bell and his wife Linda invested all their savings in a holiday let situated on the Pembrokeshire coast. Due to lockdowns and travel restrictions they have lost bookings worth some £80,000 for their six-bedroom luxury let, The Sandcastle.
On Friday, Mike told The Mail on Sunday: 'We've slipped through the net. We've been unable to get any grants. With the prospect of no business for another three months, it could well drive us to the wall. After all the hard work and money we've put in, it is heartbreaking.'