A major Northern Ireland business webinar has heard a call for government and companies to prioritise prompt payments as many businesses continue to face a cashflow crisis brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Access to Finance webinar, hosted by the Institute of Directors Northern Ireland (IoD NI), Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and business advisory firm EY, attracted 600 participants from firms across the region.
The UK Small Business Commissioner Philip King told those listening that responding to the crisis was about “collaboration not confrontation”.
He urged all firms that are struggling to enter into conversations and negotiations with creditors.
“The one thing that small businesses shouldn’t do is bury their heads in the sand and hope this will go away,” he said.
“We want businesses to do the right thing and we want businesses to treat their supply chains responsibly.
“We need businesses of all sizes to recognise the human element of what are often seen as transactional relationships.
“It’s not about waiting for the due date but making prompt payments.
“Conversations are absolutely key. If you are unable to make a payment, then have that conversation.”
Kirsty McManus, National Director, IoD NI, said:
“The fact that 500 business leaders participated in the Access to Finance webinar illustrates how deep worries around cash and finance continue to go for businesses.
“A recent survey of our members and others in partnership with the Business Alliance, found that cashflow was the number one concern for local companies and this continues to be a major issue even with the government help that has been made available.
“Of course, those measures such as enabling firms to access rates relief and to furlough staff, are hugely welcome and many local businesses have already availed of these.
“However, for the many companies whose income has literally disappeared overnight, they simply cannot survive without additional assistance.”
Ann McGregor, Chief Executive, NI Chamber, added:
“The clear message from our members and those that participated in the webinar is that cashflow remains absolutely critical and is what will get many businesses, particularly those smaller firms, through the pandemic.
“It is about working together where we can and for those firms that can afford to, speeding up supplier payments to ensure money continues to flow around our economy.
“As business organisations, our role is increasingly important in the current climate also and we are on hand to provide guidance and assistance to all companies at this time, whether it is directing them to the help they need to access the available government measures, or using our collective voice to bring their concerns directly to those in positions of influence.”
Participants in the webinar also heard updates from Andrew Dolliver, Partner, EY UK, Donal Durkan, Executive Director of Strategy at Invest NI and Paul Leonard, Non-Executive Chairman of the UK Finance NI Committee.