Why getting the next stage of unlocking Yorkshire's economy could not be more crucial - Beckie Hart

A week is a long time in politics, so the saying goes. Reflecting on the past few days, there can be no doubting this adage remains as true as ever.

Whether it’s making sense of the local election results, digesting the Queen’s Speech, or tuning into the press conferences to hear the latest Covid developments, the past week has been enormously eventful for business.

The emergence of the Indian Covid variant in the UK is a concern for us all, not least those firms operating in some of the hardest hit sectors and supply chains such leisure and hospitality that are just starting to emerge from over 12 months of turbulence.

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Business is at one with government in putting public health objectives first – as evidenced by the huge investments firms have made to keep their customers, staff and workplaces Covid-secure. It’s right that caution remains the watchword.

The latest phase of unlocking began this week.

For now, firms will be relieved the road map remains on track with the reopening of indoor leisure and hospitality, along with hotels and events, and the resumption of international travel.

And the certainty the Government’s road map has provided businesses so far is already bearing fruit when we look at the economic data.

While latest GDP figures confirms the economy was hit once again by a renewed lockdown at the turn of the year, the fall in activity was much smaller compared with spring 2020. A range of indicators, including CBI business surveys, point to a rebound in activity heading into summer – with the economy opening up and pent-up demand waiting to be unleashed.

For many businesses, this cannot come too soon. Better than expected economic news has been further buttressed by the Government setting out its agenda in the Queen’s Speech, with levelling up as the golden thread.

Museums and galleries are among the places that have reopened.

The challenge now is to translate these shared ambitions into reality. This means a relentless focus on delivery to achieve the improvements our communities deserve.

But there’s no getting away from the fact our starting point will be shaped and informed by what happens next on our recovery from the Covid crisis. Firms across the economy are anxiously awaiting big decisions from government that will impact how they run their businesses, including future social distancing requirements, access to workplace testing, and any likely Covid-certification rules.

While businesses will continue to operate within the parameters set out by government, restrictions like social distancing incur significant costs for businesses across the economy. A recent CBI survey found current social distancing guidelines mean only two-thirds of staff can physically work on premises, and firms are operating at 81 per cent of their pre-pandemic capacity.

These restrictions are having a profound impact on the way people are running their businesses, how they interact with their staff, and how they deliver value to customers.

Businesses know by now that any continuation in social distancing will be led by the science. But government must also use the forthcoming review into the future of the policy to also empower firms to trade their way to recovery.

This means providing flexibility within any future framework on key issues including working from home guidance, so firms can adapt their approach in a way that works for them, while continuing to keep staff and customers safe

Getting this next stage right will help cement the gains we’ve seen so far, helping turbocharge the economic recovery.

Crucially, it will mean finally moving on from fighting the fires of today to achieving the ambitions of tomorrow.