Mature and responsible fisheries management frequently requires necessary trade-offs…
Financial Support Package
It is widely acknowledged that the UK Government’s package of financial support to mitigate the economic impacts of the coronavirus health emergency, is unprecedented outside wartime. The immediate task is to assess how good a fit those support packages are for the fishing industry, which is in many ways unique as an economic sector, and to identify any gaps which require additional attention. Government and industry are dealing with a dynamic and fluid situation under extreme time pressures.
Business Support and Support for Wage Earners
Although extremely welcome in many businesses, including some in the fishing sector, the Government’s package of grants, loans and support for workers who are on the PAYE system, is of limited relevance to the many fishermen who are self-employed share fishers, with no guaranteed wage, but reliant instead on a share of the earnings of each trip.
That is why the industry waited anxiously on Thursday evening (26th March) for the Chancellor’s announcement of financial support measures for the self-employed.
Package for the Self-Employed
- The self-employed will be able to apply for a taxable grant worth 80% of their average monthly profits over the last 3 years, up to £2500 a month.
- This scheme will be open for three months but can be extended “if necessary”.
- The scheme will be open to anyone with trading profits up to £50,000, available to anyone who makes the majority of their income from self-employment, and only open to people with a self-assessment tax return in 2019.
- The scheme will be up and running by the beginning of June. The Government will look to get it set up faster but cannot make any promises.
- To make sure no one misses out, the Government has decided to allow anyone who missed the filling deadline in January, four weeks from today to submit their tax return.
- The first payment will come in June, but the payment will be backdated to capture payments for March, April and May. To assist people with the late payment, the Government also said that income tax payments due in July can also be deferred to the end of January 2021
- Unlike the employee scheme, the self-employed can continue to work as they receive support.
Our first impression is that the furlough arrangements for waged employees, and parallel support for the self-employed have together the capacity to bring relief to many working in the sector, including many self-employed share- fishermen. June is however a long time to wait and there will certainly be cases of hardship. There will be some, possibly many, who fall through the gaps at the bottom and the top because of the way past earnings have been recorded. Universal credit is the only safety net for these fishermen.
The urgency with which these packages have been constructed mean that detailed guidance is not yet available and there will be many who remain unclear about their individual situations. Providing that guidance and dealing with anomalies and confusions is a priority.
The one remaining, very visible, gap in the Government’s support package is for the many vessel operators who have continuing fixed costs during the health emergency but have seen their earnings collapse completely or considerably as demand has fallen away.
Support is urgently required for these businesses, who have seen their markets dramatically contract, or disappear completely, as restaurants, fish and chip shops, supermarket counters have closed, and many export markets have faced difficulties.
The Government has provided grants of £10,000 to £25,000 to business affected by enforced closures in the hospitality and restaurant sector. In many cases this is the market supplied by fishing vessels who are equally impacted but do not receive the assistance provided for the customer facing part of the trade.
We believe that the Government shares the industry’s goal of keeping fishing businesses and the entire supply chain intact, so that they can recover rapidly once the health measures and movement restrictions can be relaxed. To achieve this, direct support for fishing vessels who face harbour dues, equipment rentals, etc. will be essential.
There are different ways to deliver this support and we understand that conversations are underway within government. Clearly Treasury approval will be required.
We believe that the Chancellor understands that fishing is a unique sector, which often does not fit the standard models of economic activity. The Government also understands very well that fishing is a totemic sector.
Where markets have not completely collapsed, vessels and supply chains should be supported to maintain operation to contribute to the food security of the nation. This will only be possible if earnings are at a level that can cover costs. Where markets have dried completely, vessels must be supported to cover ongoing business costs so that they are in a fit state to start fishing and trading when recovery arrives.