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Covid-19: Help for Oxfordshire firms during the crisis

 9 mins | By Antony David
 | Finance | Government | Management | Covid-19 | Apr 3rd 2020

Last updated 26 May. This is a roundup of help available from national government, local government and professional bodies for Oxfordshire firms and employees in the science and technology sector. It will be updated as new initiatives come on stream. 

On 25 May OxLEP announced a Business Resilience Fund aimed at Sole Traders and smaller SME’s (see details and link below).

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Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

On 12 May, the Chancellor announced that this will be extended until the end of October 2020. The scheme will continue in its current form until the end of July 2020, and changes to allow more flexibility will take effect from  1 August, when furloughed workers will be able to return to work part-time, with employers being asked to pay a percentage towards their salaries. The government has also said that it will explore ways through which furloughed workers who wish to do additional training or learn new skills can be supported during this period. More details and information around its implementation will be made available by the end of May. 

The scheme enables employers to access support to pay part of their employees’ salary for those that would otherwise have been laid off during the crisis. This applies to ‘furloughed’ employees who are full- and part-time, and those on agency contracts, who have been asked to stop working, but are still on the payroll. 

HMRC will pay employers a grant worth 80 per cent of each employee’s usual wage costs, up to £2,500 a month, plus the associated Employer National Insurance contributions and minimum automatic enrolment employer pension contributions on that subsidised wage. 

The scheme is intended to safeguard workers from being made redundant, and will cover the cost of wages backdated to 1 March 2020. It is open to all UK employers with a PAYE scheme which started on or before 19 March 2020, including businesses, charities, agency workers and public authorities. Guidance for employers can be found here.

OxLEP Business Resilience Fund

OxLEP has created a fund designed to complement the range of support available from the government and provide Sole Traders and SMEs (including charities and Social Enterprises)  with unmatched grants ranging from £1k – £10k. £250,000 is available for revenue grants and £500,000 is available for capital grants.

The recipients’ activities are expected to align with three aims: to build business resilience, strengthen growth and protect jobs. It is intended that the funds should be made available quickly; an assessment process will streamline applications but try to avoid a ‘first-come, first-served’ result. Details of the application process are here.

Business interruption loan scheme

The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) provides financial support to smaller businesses across the UK that are losing revenue, and seeing their cash flow disrupted, as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak. The loans are made by the accredited lenders of the British Business Bank and include high street banks, challenger banks, asset-based lenders and some smaller specialist local lenders. Under the scheme, lenders can provide up to £5m in the form of term loans, overdrafts, invoice financing or asset finance.

The borrower remains fully liable for the debt, but the Big Four banks have agreed they will not take personal guarantees as security for lending below £250,000 under CBILS. More details can be found here

SME business finance specialist Rangewell has collated a list of CBILS lenders and is researching their positions on:

  • What their lending criteria are
  • What guarantees they are requesting
  • How individual businesses can apply
  • Their expected timescales and credit processes
  • How they are prioritising lending

Rangewell is also tracking how different lenders are supporting their current borrowers. The lenders listed include high street banks, challenger banks, peer to peer cashflow lenders, alternative lenders, property and bridging lenders, invoice finance/short-term lenders, and asset finance lenders.

Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme

The Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CLBILS) which opens for business on 20 April will support large businesses, with an annual turnover of between £45 million and £500 million, to access loans of up to £50 million.

The scheme will be delivered through commercial lenders; lenders will get an 80% guarantee from the government on individual loans for businesses that would be otherwise unable to access the finance they need. This is intended to give banks the confidence to lend to many more businesses which are impacted by coronavirus.

Facilities backed by a guarantee under CLBILS will be offered at commercial rates of interest. For companies with £45m-£250m turnover, the maximum loan is £25m. For companies with £250m-£500m turnover, the maximum loan is £50m. Borrowing can take the form of term loans, RCFs, invoice financing or asset financing. For facilities above £250,000, personal guarantees may be required, but claims cannot exceed 20% of losses after all other recoveries have been applied.

On 19 May the Treasury announced that the maximum loan size available under the scheme will increase from £50m to £200m, up to 25% of turnover, so that some larger firms which do not qualify for the Bank of England’s Covid Corporate Financing Facility will be better able to access enough finance to meet their cashflow needs during the outbreak. Alongside the increase, companies receiving help of over £50 million through CLBILS on terms of more than 12 months must agree certain restrictions, including not paying dividends and exercising restraint on senior management pay. Further information will be provided on 26 May.

Eligibility criteria include: UK based, turnover of £45m-£500m, and an inability to secure regular commercial financing. Borrowing proposals must be considered viable by the lender, if it were not for the coronavirus pandemic, and capable of enabling lenders to trade out of any short- to medium-term difficulty. The following organisations are ineligible: banks, insurers and reinsurers, public-sector bodies, grant-funded further-education establishments, and state-funded primary and secondary schools.

Future Fund

On 21 April the government also introduced a Future Fund which will contribute up to £250m for investment into high growth companies. The scheme will launch on 20 May through the British Business Bank. Companies will be able to get between £125,000 and £5m of government money, providing it is matched with equal or larger sums from private investors, and as long as the company has previously raised at least £250,00 in equity investment from a third party within the past five years. The loans are convertible; conditions apply to the circumstances of subsequent investment rounds, a sale or IPO. The main terms of the fund can be found here.

Self-employment Income Support scheme

The scheme (SEISS) will support self-employed individuals, including members of partnerships, whose income has been negatively impacted by Covid-19. It will provide a grant to self-employed individuals or partnerships, worth 80 per cent of their profits up to a cap of £2,500 per month.

HMRC will use the average profits from tax returns in 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19 to calculate the size of the grant. The scheme will be open to those where the majority of their income comes from self-employment and who have profits of less than £50,000. It will be open for an initial three months, with people able to make their first claim by the beginning of June.

According to the government’s advice, HMRC will use existing information to assess eligibility and invite applications once the scheme is operational. It is expected grants under this scheme will start to be paid in June. Guidance is available here.

Deferring VAT payments

If you are a UK VAT-registered business and have a VAT payment due between 20 March and 30 June this year, you have the option to defer the payment until a later date, if the coronavirus has negatively affected your business. 

You do not need to tell HMRC you are deferring your VAT payment but payments due following the end of the deferral period will have to be paid by the end of March 2021. More information about how to repay the VAT you’ve deferred will be available soon.

If you are unable to pay VAT or other tax due, you can contact the HMRC Coronavirus hotline to negotiate a payment plan.

Support for businesses paying sick pay

The government has committed to allow small-and medium-sized businesses and employers to reclaim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) paid for sickness absence due to Covid-19. 

The refund will cover up to two weeks of SSP for employees off work because of Covid-19. Companies with up to 250 employees are eligible. Employees will not need to provide a GP fit note; if evidence is required by an employer, those with symptoms of coronavirus can get an isolation note from NHS 111 online and those who live with someone that has symptoms can get a note from the NHS website.

Innovate UK: Covid-19 business support

Innovate UK is anxious for businesses to understand that it continues to operate and has business continuity measures in place. 

If you are an Innovate UK award recipient, you are advised to contact your Innovate UK monitoring officer as soon as possible. They will be the conduit through which potential solutions to any difficulties you may be experiencing will be addressed.

Specialist advisers from the Innovate UK Enterprise Europe Network (EEN) team, located regionally, are also available to help. It is recommended you contact your adviser, or go to the EEN website to be connected to one.

On 21 April the Treasury announced that up to £750m of support for R&D will be available through Innovate UK’s grants and loan scheme, allocated if your company passes an ‘innovation assessment’. Details will be made available in due course.

On 15 May, Innovate UK released details of new initiatives.

Changes to existing funding. In recognition of the challenges faced by SME’s currently working on projects funded, partly or wholly, by grants from Innovate UK. In order to help the grant recipients, Innovate UK have announced that they are making three key changes:

  • Moving to monthly payment
  • Reducing retention of grant pending Independent Accountants Reports from 15% to 10%
  • Automatic ‘no cost’ extensions (3 months, renewable)

Innovate UK is also introducing “Fast Start” grants which are also accessible by Covid-19 fast start beneficiaries seeking follow on funding.

Continuity grants. Up to £90 million is being made available in the form of paid upfront payments to SMEs who are existing Innovate UK award holders and who are at risk of abandoning their project due to financial issues directly related to Covid-19. These grants are for eligible organisations that expect to have a funding gap (between £25,000 and £250,000) in the remaining period of their project because they are facing loss or damages, such as reduced access to capital, cancelled orders or increases to costs, and are therefore seeing cashflow disrupted as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak. These grants are available until 29 May 2020.

Continuity loans. Up to £210 million is being made available in loans to SMEs that are having difficulties in continuing a live project for which they have an award from Innovate UK. The loans are for organisations that find themselves facing sudden financial difficulties directly as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. These Innovation Continuity Loans may be suitable if you need funding of between £250,000 and £1,600,000. Continuity loans will be open for applications until all the money is allocated or 31 December 2020 – whichever is earlier.

Apprenticeships and training

The government has also issued advice for apprentices, employers, training providers and assessment organisations in response to the impact of Covid-19. It outlines the changes that the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) is making to the apprenticeship programme during the pandemic. The aim of these measures is to support all employers, and apprenticeship training and assessment providers to retain their apprentices, and to help them plan with more certainty through the period of disruption.

The Department for Education is offering free online training with The Digital Skills Toolkit to provide tools and resources to help people to improve their digital and numeracy skills. The government has consulted some of the country’s leading educational experts and employers to make up a collection of high quality resources to suit a range of interests and skill levels.

Regional Support

Visit OxLEP for signposting on government support

Links to business support pages of Oxfordshire’s District Councils.

Oxford City Council

West Oxfordshire District Council

Cherwell District Council

South Oxfordshire District Council

Vale of White Horse District Council


Oxfordshire’s visitor economy is one of the most badly affected in the UK. Tourism South East has published this list of information for tourist businesses.

About the Author

Antony David

A chemistry graduate, Antony spent most of his career using and then making equipment for the music and broadcast industries. He was managing director of Oxford-based electronics and software company, Solid State Logic.

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