It is a cliché that the British only ever talk about the weather, but when it comes to business we have good reason to do so. When it turns nasty, the weather could put a small company out of business. If you work somewhere that has never been affected by severe weather, you might think this is not your concern.
But you could be wrong: indirect consequences of severe weather, such as power cuts, staff being unable to get to weather? The work or suppliers being unable to deliver can be just as disruptive as direct damage to your premises.
Remarkably, two-thirds of the smallest businesses in the UK have been negatively affected by severe weather events during the past three years, according to research published by FSB last year. Even more worryingly, the average cost of these events was £7,000. But 46 per cent of the 1,199 small businesses questioned, most employing no more than 10 people, had taken no action to manage risks related to severe weather; and only 25 per cent of
microbusinesses have a resilience plan that specifically includes severe weather.
Nor is it just the immediate aftermath of an incident that can be problematic. When storms damaged power lines and telephone lines in Berkshire, ValueMAxess, a consultancy serving the pharmaceutical industry, was left without power for 24 hours, and without Internet or phone services for four weeks. Owner Andreas Guhl had to rent an office during this period, adding to operational expenses.
Once the problem was resolved, he put in a claim for compensation, based on costs incurred and lost earnings. At first the telecoms provider offered him £13, then, after he complained, around £100.
He then launched legal action. Two days before the hearing, it paid him the full amount claimed. “Don’t be shy,” he says.
“Take those guys to court.” Mr Guhl has now relocated to Northamptonshire and put arrangements in place to use rented offices in Northampton or Milton Keynes if necessary.
What can small businesses do to protect themselves? Simply keeping up with weather forecasts can help – the Environment Agency provides a free flooding-alert service for firms (and homes) at risk of flooding, with warnings sent by phone, email or text. According to FSB’s research, more than one in five businesses (22 per cent) based in flood-risk areas were unaware of this service last summer. FSB also recommends that small companies produce a resilience plan covering the potential impacts including on their supply chain, and consider how easily staff could work remotely if necessary.
Resources are available to help a small firm create a continuity plan, but they vary in quality, says Mr Creedy. “We’re trying, with Government, to set up a one-stop shop, where businesses can get a resilience-plan template, good insurance and advice.”