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Innovation helping turn tide on uncertain times

ADVERTORIAL: Thousands of companies have been taking advantage of an unprecedented package of UK Government support to protect jobs and support businesses during the coronavirus outbreak. As more and more companies continue to get back to work, we look at how the financial support is helping firms across the nation to adapt, innovate and protect jobs. Here is an example of how one company has been helped, and what support is available.

When the Covid-19 pandemic arrived the chief executive officer of East Lothian firm Sunamp, knew the company could respond. Andrew Bissell (right) said: “A week into lockdown I woke up in the middle of the night and just thought ‘we have to do something that makes the business relevant in this crisis’.” Mr Bissell turned to Sunamp’s innovative technology, developed in partnership with the University of Edinburgh.

The company has led the way in the manufacture of heat batteries that store heat energy rather than electricity like conventional batteries.
The applications of the technology span several industries, but the company’s focus has so far been on offering a product that replaces the hot water tank in heating systems with something smaller and more efficient.

Recognising the potential of the technology in the context of Covid-19, Sunamp was one of more than 8,600 companies to apply for grant funding from Innovate UK, the UK Government’s innovation agency.

In April, Innovate UK launched the Fast Start initiative, with £40m of funding available to companies responding to the pandemic with some form of innovation. In the end, Sunamp was one of 800 companies to secure a grant.

The £50,000 award is being used to develop mobile handwash units that can be installed in locations where people lack access to hygiene facilities that can help prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Mr Bissell said: “You don’t need hot water to wash your hands, but it is much more comfortable.

“Right now, we’re dealing with the virus in the summer time, but as we head into winter, if you have to wash your hands outside a railway station or supermarket or vaccination centre, it will be much more pleasant to have warm water.”

The idea has gained traction with Sunamp’s clients, with inquiries coming in rapidly even though the finished product is still in development. Mr Bissell said: “Covid-19 is a global problem so there’s widespread interest.

“Sunamp has partnerships and licensing arrangements with businesses all around the world through which it sells its heat batteries, so the ambition for the mobile units is international.”

For Mr Bissell, the appeal of the project is that in addition to its obvious commercial potential, there’s a real societal benefit.

“There is no minimising the negatives of Covid-19,” he said.

“But there are many people stepping and doing amazing things.”

Working with everything from gas boilers to solar and heat pumps, Sunamp says its Heat Batteries deliver hot water with efficiency and proven savings of up to 75 per cent on utility bills in residential, commercial or industrial settings.

FINDING A SOLUTION: Staff working at the Sunamp site in East Lothian.

Support on offer to aid your business

Here are some examples of the support available for businesses and workers.

  • The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has enabled businesses to put employees on a period of temporary leave (furlough) and apply for a UK Government grant to cover 80 per cent of those workers’ usual monthly wage costs, up to £2,500 a month.
  • The Self-Employment Income Support Scheme will allow eligible self-employed individuals to claim a taxable grant of 80 per cent of their average monthly profits, up to £7,500.
  • UK VAT-registered firms have been given the option to defer VAT payments until the end of June. There will be no interest or penalties on any amount deferred.
  • The UK Government’s Bounce Back Loans Scheme provides loans of up to £50,000 to small businesses, with a 100 per cent government-backed guarantee for lenders.
  • Commercial tenants who cannot pay their rent because of coronavirus will be protected from eviction.
  • The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme is available for loans or finance of up to £5m. The UK Government will provide the lender with an 80 per cent guarantee to support the lending.
  • The Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme will repay employers the current rate of Statutory Sick Pay they pay current or former employees for sickness starting on or after March 13, 2020.
  • The Future Fund will issue loans between £125,000 to £5 million to innovative companies which are facing financing difficulties due to the coronavirus outbreak.

628,200 jobs in Scotand have been furloughed through the Coronavirus Jobs Retention Scheme up to May 31.

146,000 claims amounting to £425 million through the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme up to May 31.

70% (UK wide) of those eligible for SEISS made a claim. The average value of a claim is around £2,900.

Details of the support available to businesses across the UK can be found at gov.uk/coronavirus/business-support

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