Many local businesses have been severely impacted by COVID-19. Council communications teams are helping to ensure that businesses know where to go for the help they need.
Many local businesses have been severely impacted by COVID-19. The Government has announced a package of support for businesses who have been affected. Elsewhere, many local councils are signposting to alternative support that may be available to small businesses or that can be accessed before the Government funding will be available. Here’s how council communications teams are helping to ensure that businesses know where to go for the help they need:
Business engagement has been a priority for Braintree District Council for some time and it has prioritised establishing the right channels to reach its audience - made up largely of around 9,500 small and medium businesses over a large rural district. One of their primary communications channels is a closed Facebook Group for businesses in the district.
The business Facebook group has shown its true effectiveness during the COVID-19 pandemic - businesses has joined in their hundreds (now more than 800 are members – a 179 per cent increase). The group is used the group to share information from central government, the council and other training and funding opportunities available locally.
The closed group meant that the council’s communications team along with its economic development team could post information in quick time and keep businesses up to date with the how and when to expect information on business grants and other schemes. In the early days of social distancing, the Facebook group had a dual purpose, it proved to be a place where local business people could seek support from the council but also from fellow local business people, many dealing with the same sorts of issued as they struggled with the challenges posed by pandemic on their business.
A Zoom meeting, chaired by Basildon Council’s Chief Executive and supported by the Economic Development team, was held with the Basildon Business Group, to make sure they had the latest information on council services during the pandemic and the support available to businesses. It was also an opportunity for businesses to engage with the council in real time, to ask questions and to help the council understand what challenges businesses are facing so further support can be improved or refined.
Southampton City Council has been championing small businesses in the area by encouraging people to “buy local” while social distancing measures are in place. Posts on the council’s social channels and website, together with specially produced e-newsletters, are reminding residents that supporting local businesses doesn’t need to cost anything – an endorsement on a review website can mean just as much as a purchase. But for those must-have items, the messages include buying from a Southampton retailer’s website, ordering a take away from one of the city’s many eateries, and buying gift cards to use at a later date.
Middlesbrough Council has been communicating with the local business community both directly and through social media channels to raise awareness of the grants, loans and relief rates available to them from the Government through the local authority. In the past three weeks alone, the council has awarded more than £13m in business grants to over 1,150 businesses to safeguard jobs in the town amid the Coronavirus outbreak. The response from local business owners has been very positive, in particular the speed with which they have worked.
Croydon is deploying applications built on a low code platform in its response to the coronavirus pandemic. The council has launched an app for internal use in managing key services and another for local businesses to make applications for support grants during the crisis, using the Netcall App Share platform.
The council report that in the first 12 hours the grants app, available through its website, received more than 500 applications. The apps were developed in a matter of days using multi-disciplinary teams with three ‘show and tells’ per day. The council is happy to speak with other local authorities who may be considering doing something similar. It is also looking at the possible adoption of other councils' services, giving the example of Adur and Worthing’s community response platform. The two councils recently announced a partnership for the development of low code solutions.
Devon County Council is leading efforts to support those who have been made redundant, or who have been affected by the closure of businesses in the Heart of the South West, through its virtual career fair. The virtual career fair was created in partnership with Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership and local authorities. It includes information on companies who are recruiting, support for individuals and businesses as well as young people and their families.
Barnsley Council has already started distributing grants to businesses who need support from the Government scheme. To help coordinate this effort, they’ve created a business support hub on the Enterprising Barnsley website. The council has set up an online call centre to put out information, and made a channel shift to ask customers to use this rather than call as it was more manageable for their teams. They have also been driving grant enquiries directly to an online form. The council’s employment and skills team has worked closely with the communications team to create a new website page for people to discuss concerns around employment, seek new employment and develop skills whilst out of work.
Rutland’s business support hub brings together a wealth of business support information and advice so that businesses are clear about the support that may be available to them. The council has clearly broken down what the Government’s support package may mean for a business and the options available, detailed the support that the council can offer to its tenants as well as signposting to Business Lincolnshire’s Growth Hub Advisors. The team has also pulled together a useful FAQ document.
Croydon Council has created a business support page that emphasises local support and safeguarding their small businesses. Croydon brings together everything from Government guidance to free local recruitment services and the Croydon based London Growth Hub to ensure that businesses of any size know what support may be available to them. They have also created a dedicated online form where enquiries not covered by their website can be submitted.
Redbridge Council has used the business support page of their coronavirus hub to address some Frequently Asked Questions. Having these FAQs up front and centre on the main page will help to minimise the number of enquiries made and free up resource to deal with enquiries that are more complex. The council’s hub is clear and informative, effectively describing what the Government’s support package means in reality and what alternative support might be available to businesses.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) communications support and templates
In this unprecedented time, it has never been more important for councils to communicate effectively with a wide range of stakeholders: from residents and businesses to at risk groups and employees. Things are changing hour by hour and with each change comes a new demand for complex communications about COVID-19.