Axminster business recovery hopes

This needs to be read in conjunction with Simon Jupp’s public support for Exmouth.

Tim Dixon

Hard-hit traders in Axminster have their attention fixed on Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Budget today as he announces his financial route out of lockdown.

A survey of businesses by the Totally Locally Axminster traders’ group shows that optimism over the town’s future is being tempered by concerns whether crucial support will be available to help them get through the recovery stages. 

As chief executive of one of the town’s most high profile businesses, River Cottage managaing director Stewart Dodd said that businesses would be unlikely to return to pre-Covid revenue levels until 2022. He spoke for most with his assessment of the critical factors for local businesses, including a furlough scheme extension until July 31 to support a phased return to work. He believed both the reduced VAT rate of five per cent and businesses rates relief should be further extended to the end of March 2022, and urged pressure be put on banks and lenders to allow further capital repayment breaks, plus encouragement to landlords to allow rent breaks.

He added: “Its highly likely that the UK economy will be buoyant throughout the summer months whilst people remain cautious booking international vacations but it’s important that the government continues support through the winter months, as the economy slows. Hopefully, in the spring of 2022 the economy will bounce back to pre-Covid levels.”

The longer term need for business rates reform is regarded as a key issue by Ian Styles, who has invested heavily in Axminster during lockdown through the restoration of the Trinity House anchor store as a haven for small independent businesses.

“The promised review of the business rates system is long overdue,” he said. “For those that have to pay it locally it can be a crippling burden – there is a real need to level the playing field between large and small businesses.”

At Collate Interiors, owner Naomi Eden highlighted the need for further grant support to cover the true cost of being closed for three months and funding for small towns to help with post Covid regeneration plans. Archway Bookshop’s Simon Holmes was cautious about an online tax designed to help small shops, fearing it could rebound on businesses like his own that have greatly increased their website trading through lockdown.