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Supporting organisations to respond to Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak

Like most of the Irish business sector, the normal operation of organisations in our sector was suspended on the ill-fated Friday 13 March 2020, a day we are won’t forget. Since then, our members have been working with visiting artists and companies, community groups, employees and audiences to minimise the impact of cancellations and closures. This is the first of a number of regular articles with information and resources to support you, your team and your board in managing this unprecedented situation. This article is aimed at organisations but there will be others addressing issues for individuals in the coming days. In the meantime, we have a list of useful links here

Next Emergency Members’ Meeting
We had a really good response to our 13 March online members’ meeting with almost 700 people watching this stream. We’ll convene our next emergency Members’ Meeting online on Tuesday 31 March 2020, 11am-12noon during which we will have experts available to provide updates and answer your questions. We will do this meeting by Zoom and we’ll send you the relevant links to join the meeting on Monday 30 March but for now save the date and time.

Business Planning in the Covid-19 pandemic

We now expect we are looking at interruption to the ‘normal’ activities of arts centres, theatres and venues for a number of weeks to come, or for restrictions to continue into the early summer months. The Government announcement expected next weekend will determine how long our theatres and arts centres will remain dark and without box office income.

Safeguarding your organisation
In these unprecedented circumstances, there are a number of steps that the directors and executives should take now to safeguard their organisations.

  • Convene a board meeting (virtually) as soon as possible and plan others regularly over the next few months.
  • Take careful minutes and note down decisions taken, noting the reasons and basis for the decisions. Ensure the minutes are complete and accurate and are saved.
  • Plan frequent meetings of the management team (virtually), and liaise with the Chair.
  • Prepare management accounts to get a realistic picture of the company’s financial affairs.
  • Prepare realistic forecasts. If you have recently received a large cash grant, you probably have enough money to get through the next few months with no box office or other income. Think about what happens if you make it through the next few months, but your box office income stream only revives slowly. In this situation, you will have spent your grant monies but may not have sufficient income to carry you through till the end of 2020.
  • Forecast your monthly position for the rest of the year to December 2020. Don’t assume that your organisation’s income will bounce back to previous levels. We could be facing a recession with the economy and consumer confidence slow to recover, and it may be we have to plan for a slow return to normal. Whatever happens, you will need to get back on budget for the last quarter of 2020 and in order to do this, you need to plan now.
  • Obtain financial advice, preferably from your auditor or a qualified accountant.

Financial management
You’ve been managing your costs in relation to cancelled performances and events. It’s also necessary to look at possible cost-savings.

  • List all the cost savings which will arise due to closure/dormancy of your organisation, such as light/heat/cleaning/casual work/travel and other running costs
  • Negotiate with your suppliers Is it possible to delay or defer any payments such as bank loan repayments? It is probably better to hold early discussions with your bank and to keep them informed. Can you reduce payments such as rent or insurance?
  • Inform your largest creditors, keep them informed of your plans and if necessary, negotiate payment plans with them. Only make promises that you can keep.
  • Prepare a budget and a realistic business plan.

Staff and employees are some of the most difficult of all conversations. However, a clear strategy from the outset is the best approach. The Board need to agree on a plan.

  • Can you afford to continue to pay full payroll right up to December? If not, you’ll need to consider all the available options.
  • Should you put all staff on a percentage pay cut?
  • Are some staff still working full-time? And some working only part-time? How do you fairly reflect this in payroll?
  • Do you want to offer part-time options to staff?
  • If you need to take the lay-offs route, refer to the measures recommended by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Employment which involve keeping payments to staff but getting a rebate from Revenue.
  • Note that staff working from home can be paid a tax-free sum of €3.20 per day to cover their costs.

Responsibilities of Directors & Insolvency
Directors of all organisations need to ensure that they are in receipt of reliable and frequent management accounts and cashflow projections and their organisations are solvent. It’s important that directors are able to identify (in)solvency issues to act early and effectively to keep the organisation trading and ultimately,  to be able to defend themselves against any possible charges of reckless trading.

If your organisation becomes insolvent or you foresee that it will not be able to pay the bills as they fall due, get advice from insolvency practitioner or a qualified accountant.

Innovate to support your community through these stressful and isolating times. Consider what you can deliver on-line, whether you can provide a social benefit, whether you can support fearful and alienated people in your community.

References
Information for employers and employees
Government supports to COVID 19 impacted-businesses
Short time work support
Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment

This note is adapted from Theatre Forum’s Factsheet “Duties, Responsibilities and Liabilities” Factsheet. See the whole factsheet here: https://www.theatreforum.ie/resource/governance-directors-duties/