Column: After the floods, it's still a challenge

Rupert Cox.

Rupert Cox.

First published in News

SO it is all back to normal, then! The sun is shining and the water has gone, so everything must be fine out on the Somerset Levels.

Well, no, actually.

Life for businesses affected by the flooding disaster is still a challenge, even in spite of the “open for business” messages, and the horse-trading about who will pay for the clear up and the future flood prevention and mitigation has begun.

The Somerset Chamber’s early survey work way back in the middle of February suggested that for those businesses that could put a price against their losses, their income was down on average £17,000, and we are now hearing about some pretty horrific losses as the flooding crisis continued for 12 weeks – and more in some places.

My own personal experiences started on December 20 when I helped my 85-year-old father extricate his sheep from flooded pasture on the edge of the Levels near Langport.

Those same fields are still flooded with pasture ruined for at least the 2014 growing season.

And what of the businesses on the fringes of the flooded area?

I will revert to my own ‘home patch’ and use two normally very successful rural businesses that now face real long-term viability issues because of a ten-week road closure.

Long Sutton Village Stores and Long Sutton Golf Club are both situated on the B3151 that runs through the village, but with flooding affecting Long Load bridge and its surrounds there has been no passing trade whatsoever for all of 2014 – until March 12.

Just imagine what their profit and loss accounts look like for this business quarter!

These two examples epitomise the challenges that many small rural businesses face and can be replicated across the entire area.

So, what is to be done?

At a macro level, get the road, rail and river infrastructure fit for purpose, and build resilience into our infrastructure networks; and deliver a high profile marketing campaign to put Somerset back on the map for all the right reasons – a great place to visit, live and do business.

At a micro level, firstly to consumers, support local companies that work hard to provide a service for your community; and for funding charities, make sure that those businesses that experienced hardship during this disaster get the funding support they are entitled to, much of which has been donated by good-hearted Somerset residents.

By Rupert Cox, chief executive of Somerset Chamber of Commerce.

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