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COMMENT


THE LAST WORD


Chamber president DAWN EDWARDS on the issues that are worth talking about


THE ROAD AHEAD The past few months have taken their toll on business, and few would argue they have brought both challenges and opportunities. The Chamber’s latest Quarterly Economic


Survey shows the impact the pandemic has had on businesses in Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire, and it makes for sobering reading with a net 49% of organisations reporting a fall in their cashflow and a net 55% seeing advance orders decline. Government support, in the form of grants


early on, will have provided a lifeline in the short term. The furlough scheme being extended until October brings relief and an opportunity to look ahead, while keeping staff in work as the pandemic’s effects play out. Still, however, 34% of East Midlands businesses


expect to within the three months following the survey taken between May and June. We have already seen many job losses being announced locally, with Rolls-Royce and Boots among those that have taken these very difficult decisions for the longer-term wellbeing of their organisations. But it’s not all doom and gloom, with one in


five businesses anticipating they will return to 100% or more of pre-lockdown activity levels by the end of the year, and 45% expecting to be there by the end of 2021.


LOCAL LOCKDOWNS The re-opening of pubs, restaurants and other hospitality businesses is a welcome relief for many. But this was, as we all know, not the case for


all regions as those in Leicester and Leicestershire will attest. All businesses will have been affected by the


tighter controls to slow the spread of the virus, and this will have had a profound effect on some that were planning to, or had just started to, recover. The abrupt lockdown will have created a


double burden for some, especially those who rely on short shelf life products involving longer lead times through their supply chain. These companies will have obtained supplies in anticipation of opening, only to then be told they cannot do so. The Chamber and the D2N2 Local Enterprise


70 business network August/September 2020


Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Kickstart jobs programme will help young people to gain work experience


Partnership are working hard to lobby Government to provide a package of additional relief for those businesses that find themselves affected for longer due to local lockdowns. Because while the rest of the economy starts to recover, they run the risk of being left behind.


RECOVERY AND ACCESS TO SKILLS Few would argue the recovery will mean businesses will need to be able to access the right skills at the right time, and that the “new world” will see more flexible ways of working requiring not only effective and reliable digital infrastructure, but also the right mix of skills within the workforce. A positive that has come from the pandemic


has to be that business has done what it does best – it’s thought creatively and overcome barriers to continue trading despite lockdown. Some estimate this has accelerated digital skills and the inevitable shift to remote and flexible working by five years or more. The Kickstart programme announced in


Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s “mini budget” will no doubt go some way to helping young people gain work experience. But at a time when there is likely to be increased unemployment, it


shouldn’t be seen as a replacement for longer- term skills, knowledge and – most importantly – work readiness behaviours and mindsets, which are so vital for employers. There was low take-up in apprenticeship


numbers prior to lockdown, something likely to be exacerbated with the predicted higher unemployment rates going forward. The Chamber is working hard to lobby Government to make apprenticeships more flexible to ensure the workforce is equipped to take up job opportunities as they arise during the recovery. Leaders and managers too will need to have a


whole new skills set – one which enables whole team buy-in, often from remote locations. They will be required to develop a culture where they are able to balance the needs of delivering products and services to customers, with the autonomy and trust that more flexible working arrangements and the modern-day workforce expect. The pace of change over the past few months


has demanded creative thinking and a cultural shift, which many of us had never before experienced. However, I know we will all rise to the challenge. I am in awe of the businesses I come into


contact with and constantly surprised at the resilience and innovation that is so prevalent in the East Midlands. There are so many examples of community engagement – both in terms of sourcing PPE and creating collaborations to donate supplies – through to fundraising and lending a hand with furloughed staff to charities and the NHS.


BUSINESS AWARDS Each year, the Chamber’s Business Awards highlight the very best we have to offer in the East Midlands. The sponsors have continued to support these awards and I would like to thank them for doing so. Without their support, we would be unable to showcase to the same extent the exceptional talent revealed in the entries. They are a positive expression of hope for the


future and I, along with the other board members at the Chamber, am so looking forward to seeing the entries. These good news stories of resilience serve as exemplars that are truly inspiring to others.


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