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East Anglian printing business fears it will collapse during coronavirus lockdown without government assistance

PUBLISHED: 05:30 04 May 2020

Austin Mckinlay, founder of Universal Image Systems based in Colchester, believes his business will go bust without government support through the coronavirus crisis.  Picture: AUSTIN MCKINLAY

Austin Mckinlay, founder of Universal Image Systems based in Colchester, believes his business will go bust without government support through the coronavirus crisis. Picture: AUSTIN MCKINLAY

AUSTIN MCKINLAY

A Colchester-based printing firm fears it will go bust during the Covid-19 crisis without government assistance.

Austin Mckinlay, founder of Universal Image Systems based in Colchester, believes his business will go bust without government support through the coronavirus crisis.  Picture: AUSTIN MCKINLAYAustin Mckinlay, founder of Universal Image Systems based in Colchester, believes his business will go bust without government support through the coronavirus crisis. Picture: AUSTIN MCKINLAY

Austin Mckinlay, the founder and boss of Universal Image Systems which produces displays and stands for exhibitions and trade shows across the world, said all of his orders have been cancelled and he does not expect the industry to start again for the next 18 months.

He said: “We’re devastated. We’ve got absolutely no work.

“We’ve lost all of our business because we’re about international and national exhibitions and events. That’s all gone now and sadly it will stay gone for a very long time until people have got immunity and the confidence to socialise and travel.”

Austin Mckinlay, founder of Universal Image Systems based in Colchester, believes his business will go bust without government support through the coronavirus crisis.  Picture: AUSTIN MCKINLAYAustin Mckinlay, founder of Universal Image Systems based in Colchester, believes his business will go bust without government support through the coronavirus crisis. Picture: AUSTIN MCKINLAY

MORE: Suffolk businesses call for greater furlough flexibility

The firm, which works out of a 20,000sq ft warehouse in Colchester, has placed all of its staff on furlough.

Mr Mckinlay, who started the company in his bedroom 25 years ago, said: “When our market comes back next year it won’t come back as what we have lost but will come back as a fraction of that. It won’t return in full for maybe two years.

“We’ve run profitable businesses, looked after our staff, contributed to local communities and we’re fighting to survive, while other businesses get their business rates cut.

“Any form of help that we can get as a business is massive, it could be the difference between the company collapsing and the company surviving.”

Mr Mckinlay believes that because of a statement made by chancellor Rishi Sunak his firm should be eligible for a business rates holiday, but the council deny this and say the chancellor’s words do not count as part of the guidance given to councils.

A spokesman for Colchester Borough Council (CBC) said: “Mr McKinlay’s business does not meet the criteria set by Government for the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant. The guidance is based around various business types, which must be ‘wholly or mainly’ retail for ‘visiting members of the public’.

“There are many businesses which sell products both within and beyond the UK, but simply selling goods does not necessarily mean that the business premises can be considered retail. A business premises that is predominantly used for the production and printing of materials would be considered as warehouse premises.

On March 17 in the House of Commons the chancellor answered a question from Andrew Griffiths MP about support for the exhibition sector.

In his answer he appeared to say that companies in the exhibition sector were eligible for the same help as is available to businesses in the retail, leisure or hospitality sectors.

He said: “With regard to the exhibition sector, those that have physical properties and business rates will be eligible for the scheme that I announced today and the cash grants.”

On that day the chancellor had announced that all businesses in the retail, leisure or hospitality sectors who paid less than £51,000 a year in business rates would not pay anything in business rates for that year.

This led many firms in the sector to expect that the measures the chancellor had announced would be passed on to them.

Find all of our coronavirus coverage here.

However, a government spokesman said the chancellor’s words may have been misunderstood and clarified that there would be no special support available to companies in the exhibition sector.

He said: “The Government has provided guidance to councils on which firms qualify for business rates relief.

“Those that aren’t eligible can still make use of the government’s unprecedented package of support. This includes our new bounce back loans, which provide eligible applicants with quick and easy support that is interest free for the first 12 months, as well as the coronavirus job retention scheme and other measures such as protection from eviction and income tax deferrals.”

Adrian Pritchard, chief executive of Colchester Borough Council said: “We do feel for Mr McKinlay under the present circumstances, just as we do for many businesses who do not qualify for this particular grant. The chancellor has made a range of other financial support available for other businesses, which his company would need to consider.”

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