THE WAY FORWARD

Date: 08/06/2020
Author: Chris Fletcher
Company: Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

Chris Fletcher, Policy, Campaigns and Communications Director at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, looks at the impact of Covid-19. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has had unparalleled global impact. Across the world communities, businesses and people have all been affected. Some more than others either personally, financially or both.
 
The severity of the disease and the potential impact on health services necessitated a drastic response by the UK government. 
 
Following the announcement of “lockdown” on 23rd March huge sections of the economy have been put on hold and whilst business has continued it is at a reduced level. 
 
The Chamber’s Business Monitor has tracked, weekly, the economic impact and scale of the economic contraction and has also recorded business response to the various support measures put in place by government. The impact on the economy has been nothing short of brutal with sales and demand at all-time lows and business confidence at similar levels. Cash has consistently been the biggest issue raised, with many businesses, even with government help, rapidly using their cash reserves in a hope to survive this period.
 
With the release of “Our Plan to Rebuild” by the government during May, some measures started to be lifted and guidance put in place for business to ensure health objectives are met whilst aiming to simultaneously kick-start the economy. 
 
This will present several significant challenges over the coming months – financially, physically, logistically and behaviourally.
 
This period also presents a huge number of opportunities too. The immediate and ongoing period will present ways to review how people work, how they travel and commute and offer the chance to explore other health and environmental benefits. 
 
In some respects we have been and are living in a new age of enforced innovation with changes across all areas of society and work. Some beneficial others less so. 
 
Prior to Covid-19 some businesses were reluctant to try homeworking as a viable model. The enforced usage of video conferencing technology – Zoom, Teams etc. in the last few months has made many review their previous business models and also evaluate future demand and requirements for office space. In the resumption and recovery phase, not all sectors and businesses can resume operations at the same time. It is also likely that a small number of businesses will never reopen, while others will need additional support to restart, whilst others in the hospitality sector may need further, ongoing support. The revival of normal business activities is predicated on various factors such as implementing infection prevention measures within offices and in public transport, the availability of sufficient transport capacity and restoring confidence.  
 
The Chamber during this period has been more active than ever in reaching out to its members and others, listening to them, working out what needs doing and making sure issues are brought to light. 
 
Last week we launched “The Way Forward” a paper that sets out, in four themes, some key considerations and actions that should form part of what the future could and should look like. It is based on direct feedback from members, the wider GM business community, current government action and guidelines, and that which is expected in the future alongside local conditions and requirements.
 
It also contains a list of actions that the Chamber will commit to that will ensure ongoing support to keep businesses informed and engaged so that we can help guide policy and decision makers in ensuring that the right decisions are taken. 
 
Any crisis brings opportunities and this crisis is no different. No doubt, the disruption will have raised questions about the reliance on international supply chains, preparing for uncertainty and building business resilience. At the same time, we should not forget or fail to consider the human cost. We should not be blinkered into looking at how long it will take, or the ways of getting back to where we were before; but how, by using new work models, new technology, new ways of doing things we can be better and do better in business and for our communities.
 
Over the rest of this week we shall be focusing on the four themes in more detail, highlighting how you can be involved with this work and help influence what this recovery will look like.

If you have any comments or ideas  I’d love to hear from you – email me at: chris.fletcher@gmchamber.co.uk
Look out for our calls to action – and get involved!