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Strike action ‘another dagger’ for small businesses crippled by Covid

Small business owners have said they are struggling to survive as postal workers are set to walk out and amid the looming threat of rail strikes.

Matt Harris, 49, who runs wine bars Planet Of The Grapes and Fox Fine Wines in London, said that strike action is just “another dagger” for already struggling hospitality businesses.

“The repercussions of Covid were bad enough and we are still paying back debts from it,” Mr Harris told the PA news agency.

“We start the week at a loss, and have to work hard to hit break-even point.

“Every single hospitality business that I have spoken to is paying their HMRC tax bills in staggered, delayed payments.

“And that is basically telling you that they are all, essentially, bust.”

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) were due to take industrial action from Saturday in the long-running dispute over pay, jobs and conditions.

However, strikes were called off on Friday after the RMT said it had made rail bosses “see sense”, but added that “if we have to take strike action during the next six months to secure a deal, we will”.

Mr Harris said previous industrial action and the threat of further strikes is crippling his business and others in the industry, who have lost customers on strike days throughout the year.

He said: “The Government has allowed nine weeks of strikes throughout this year – amounting to a quarter of the weeks that we have been operating.

“And we have been given absolutely nothing to make up for our loss in income.

“I support the fact that workers should get proper and fair pay. But the problem is, the way they are fighting it is causing more harm to other working people than it is to the bosses and the Government.

“I think they should give grants to any business affected by strike action.

“And they should have tax relief going forward so that businesses can survive what will be a torrid few years ahead.”

Mr Harris said that small business owners like him have gone from resilience to anger, and have “had enough” of the sheer lack of support.

“Until people realise how serious the situation is, nothing is going to happen,” he said.

Royal Mail workers are due to walk out on two of the busiest online shopping days of the year, Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Jessica Taylor, 36, who is a textile artist and illustrator and runs her own business, Loadofolbobbins, said that postal strikes can be a “nightmare” but stressed it is important that workers receive pay rises.

“Anything affecting the postal service can be a potential nightmare for me if I have orders that need to be delivered,” Ms Taylor told PA.

“There’s always a chance for customers to get upset about delays or lost items.”

But it is in the interests of small businesses to support strikers because pay rises will help boost consumer spending, Ms Taylor said.

“What is so often forgotten when things like this are happening is that all the workers striking during this action are all my potential customers, so if their wages rise in a meaningful way it means they have more money to spend with small businesses like mine.

“As a result, it means that I would be able to help create a healthy and stable economy.

“How many multimillion-pound chief executives do you think I get shopping at my business?”

Jessica Taylor, owns Loadofolbobbins
Jessica Taylor, who owns Loadofolbobbins, said that it is in the interests of small businesses to see strikers’ wages rise (PA)

Ms Taylor added that it is a scary time for small business owners, many of whom have found it impossible to stay open amid rising costs and declining consumer spending.

She said: “It has definitely been a lot tougher over the last year and a bit, and people are understandably spending less.

“People are genuinely scared about just being able to afford day-to-day essentials.

“I’m lucky that most of what I make is not particularly resource heavy in terms of energy, but suppliers are raising costs and for fellow businesses with small brick and mortar shops, or studios with kilns for example, it is a really scary time.

“I have already seen a number make the tough call to shut up shop altogether.”

Earlier this week, leading hospitality trade bodies warned that a third of Britain’s pubs, restaurants and hotels could go bust by the end of the year as the cost of running their business becomes impossible.

They said that many hospitality businesses were on the brink due to the “cost-of-doing-business crisis”, as energy bills and food prices soar.