Both the First Minister and the Prime Minister were correct in their recent televised addresses to the nations. This is going to be an unquestionably difficult winter for many.
Clearly, there needs to be a trade-off between containing the spread of the virus and managing the impact on our economy. Unemployment figures are likely to rise as the Job Retention Scheme comes to an end and our hospitality and tourism industries are facing a cliff edge.
The new measures announced by the Chancellor last Thursday should bring some relief to many directors fearing a harsh winter for their businesses and people. As the virus wears on, the Treasury is right to seek a balance between protection and adjustment.
The stark reality is that there are probably some more tough calls yet to come if the number of cases of Covid 19 continues to rise so we have to find a way. It’s clear that we are going to be living with Covid-19 for some time to come. Many of us are transfixed by the daily updates and media briefings. Lots of us are facing local lockdowns in Wales and some of us will have friends and family suffering with the virus. But let’s not forget that life has got to carry on.
As we head towards 2021, finding our way over the coming months is critical for the economy and society at large. Not least of which because, whatever your view or your political persuasion, we cannot risk taking our eye off the ball that could be heading our way from left field.
It’s six months since we went in to lockdown. If it weren’t for Covid-19 then we would have spent this year talking about the dreaded B word. Brexit. But with the UK Government sticking firm to its 31 December deadline, the status quo cannot last much longer. We’ve got to start taking big steps to prepare but this is a difficult task at a time when most attention, inside Government and out, is rightly focused on the coronavirus response.
We don’t yet have a clear picture of what future trading arrangements will look like. We also need to be mindful that It may be hard to convince cash-strapped businesses to make preparations that may prove unnecessary.
Most businesses, already embattled by the economic impact of coronavirus, do not have the bandwidth to prepare for Brexit. Many have been forced to divert staff working on Brexit to their coronavirus responses, or have had to furlough them or make redundancies.
Social distancing will also add a very practical obstacle to the groundwork required to prepare for Brexit and, of course, there is huge uncertainty about what the economic landscape will look like come 2021.
Yet, we have to find a way. Business resilience has to shine through. Time moves quickly and we’ll soon be talking about our plans for the new year. We have to start planning for Brexit; mapping supply chains, assessing any staffing issues and understanding customer requirements if exporting or importing from the EU.
2021 might still seem a while away but we’re definitely seeing an increase in members accessing the IoD business advisory service and urge all business owners to take advice on what steps are necessary leading up to January. Business Wales, the Wales Office and the Chamber of Commerce are also all excellent sources of information.
These might be challenging times but life must carry on. We’ve got to have confidence and find our way through.
Robert Lloyd Griffiths OBE