I have a group of four companies, one of which started trading in August 2018, the remaining three started trading in January 2020, well before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived.
All were doing reasonably well, and plans were made for an expansion and increase in staff, with eventual numbers planned to reach 180 full time equivalent high quality roles.
When ‘lock-down’ hit in March, our retail business was completely devastated (Retail Computers and Electronics), we tried to reinvent ourselves with collections and deliveries etc, we already operated an online store which did see some sales, but ultimately we needed to use the Job Retention Scheme, and still are for some staff.
The announcement of the Retail Grant was welcome, our local authority had an initial delay, but once processed we received this quickly. This helped cover our base costs for around six weeks.
We have had no further support, cash reserves were being used to sustain our infrastructure, despite massive efforts in cost saving.
When the Bounce Back Loan Scheme was announced, I was reluctant to borrow money, but because I have faith in our business going forward, I decided to use it. I was already at a low point, working up to 19-20 hours daily in an effort to keep the businesses running.
My already poor health was also deteriorating further.
The announcement that affordability or credit checks wouldn’t take place wasalso welcomed because I, like many others, have had difficult times in the past obtaining credit.
Our companies bank with Tide and Monzo. Monzo advised they would NOT be applying to become an accredited BBL provider, while Tide indicated they would, we moved our business banking to Tide on the basis they would assist with a BBL for two of our companies.
We were placed on a waiting list, despite the chancellor’s assurances that money could be in accounts within 48 hours of applying and no one would be left behind.
Just over six weeks after their accreditation with the British Business Bank, they sent a devastating email saying they had effectively run out of money. At that point, my mental health took a massive turn for the worse as I worried about how to support my staff over the remaining period of lockdown.
I am ashamed to say that suicide was contemplated on more than one occasion.
The following week, I picked myself up and decided we should apply via one of the few remaining BBL providers that would accept new customers. HSBC seemed like a good option.
We applied for their now infamous ‘feeder account’, only to be kept waiting a further six weeks, then told I did not meet their criteria because of previous credit history, despite the BBL itself not being subject to the standard credit checks.
After a frank conversation with HSBC it was said that it was my own credit history that was preventing them from opening a feeder account. After some soul-searching, I decided it was in the interests of the greater good that I should step aside as director and shareholder and allow one of my close friends to take over the business and I would remain as an employee.
We reapplied to HSBC after advising them and initially being told this would be acceptable. Four weeks later, they declined us again with no right of appeal.
Again, my own mental health, together with other staff members was under a massive amount of stress as bills started to mount up.
One supplier actually took court action AND secured a High Court Writ against us during this whole period, which they then enforced with High Court Enforcement Officers.
It was fortunate for myself that I was in the office with a very dear friend when they arrived. We had already exhausted all company reserves and my personal finances. I had what can only be described as a breakdown.
My friend paid the HCEO the £1750 from his own account and he left. I have later found out that the HCEO should not have attended at all because the guidelines had changed.
Moving forward, the company applied to Clydesdale Bank, to be declined after waiting almost four weeks.
It was then announced that Conister Bank would be accepting applications from companies in a position like ours. We immediately applied on 27th August for both companies. We completed the application forms and returned them the very same day, with an email receipt being sent.
Two weeks later, I telephoned for an update, to be advised they did indeed have our applications and they were being processed. At that time, I felt able to plan for the reopening of our businesses and set about planning for that. After hearing nothing, I called weekly to be told the same thing, it was explained that they were working on a paper-based system so it may take a little while.
Yesterday, October 13th, I telephoned again because we are now in a position where we need to either receive a BBL or close permanently, with the loss of the remaining staff we have.
I was told that they (Conister) had used all their allocation several weeks ago and I should not have been told otherwise, I was further told that I would receive an email shortly. To date, no email has been received.
When I went home last night, I cried not because I was upset, but because I was angry at the way some businesses have been treated. I had four perfectly viable companies, I was promised support many times, each time it was pulled away after being made to wait for weeks and sometimes months.
There is only so much one person can take.
I was responsible for almost thirty staff, many of whom are good friends. Over the last months, I have been forced into making many of them redundant and there are now only three of us left in the group.
I can no longer see a way of saving the business, which can immediately re-employ our staff if we can start operating again. All we need is the support that was promised in the form of a BBL.
I am not asking for anything that many other business owners have not received, I am asking for fairness.
I am deeply ashamed to say that it did eventually become too much last night. I spent almost six hours sat at the side of a bridge over the main A1 with the intention of ending my life.
I am pleased to say that I didn’t, mainly because of a close friend who explained that if I did, no one would know the reason why.
Banks and politicians cannot be allowed to ‘play’ with people’s lives!
Wednesday October 14th, 2020