Why Yorkshire firms favour certainty over haste as world unlocks - Beckie Hart

Come July 19, some 493 days will have passed since the first lockdown began, yet the PM has now confirmed this will be the date when final restrictions are lifted and freedoms restored.

The pandemic has changed every aspect of life in Britain
The pandemic has changed every aspect of life in Britain

For businesses operating across virtually all sectors, this is welcome news. Business leaders have always understood public safety had to come first and have gone to great lengths to make their operations Covid-secure and to protect staff and customers throughout the crisis. But the uncertainty of shifting dates has created enormous challenges.

Companies in Yorkshire and the Humber I have spoken to have typically favoured certainty over haste, so the Prime Minister’s insistence that relaxation will be ‘irreversible’ will be crucial in enabling firms to plan for the next stage of their recovery.

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For some, the anticipated end to restrictions comes in the nick of time, relieving pressure on jobs and livelihoods which have teetered on the brink for more than a year. For others, it may sadly be too late and it is imperative to do everything possible to keep this number to a minimum. Emphasis now is rightly moving from crisis to recovery, but that recovery will be faster and stronger if every sector is able to play its part.

Critical now will be to build both customer and employee confidence in living with the virus. For government, this will mean moving quickly to address any unanswered questions, and supporting employers through guidance and advice.

That will mean clear communication on whether workplace testing will continue beyond July, clarity on mask wearing for public transport and establishing how a test

and release scheme can support both domestic industry and our international travel sector. Government and the Health & Safety Executive should continue to play a critical role in helping to inform good decision making and risk assessments.

For businesses, the next step will involve placing a premium on close dialogue with their employees to restore confidence and demonstrating to customers how they are reopening safely and with their interests at the forefront.

Uncertainty remains around travel rules. The traffic light system for international destinations has restored some opportunity for trade, but is subject to flux – as well as potential restrictions for travellers at destination countries.

It is vital that the UK works with the EU and governments around the globe to establish common standards to enable travel to safely resume in full – otherwise, we risk not only losing

jobs and skills from the sector, but hindering the UK’s global competitiveness for the long term.

Financial support is also still needed – especially for those sectors which are yet to truly embark on their recovery, and where a full revival remains some way off.

That support will come in a number of guises. The furlough scheme – so successful in protecting jobs throughout the crisis – has began tapering, yet will still have a role to play in supporting those in heavily-impacted sectors as they ease their way back to full economic health.

The same is true of business rates relief; while it has also begun winding down this month, its reduced terms will still afford some leeway to firms as they rebuild their trade.

The recent extension to the commercial rent moratorium will also give businesses some extra breathing space as demand recovers.

And demand is indeed recovering. You may have seen details of the CBI’s recent economic forecast for the next 18 months, which is predicting a far faster revival than previously expected.

Indeed, such has been the acceleration in economic activity – with 9 out of 10 firms now trading again – that we are expecting all ground lost during the pandemic to have been recovered by the end of this year.

It’s an encouraging prognosis. And businesses across Yorkshire and the Humber stand ready and eager to play their part in the region’s recovery. They eagerly await July 19 and look forward to making 2021 a summer to remember.

Beckie Hart is the CBI Regional Director for Yorkshire