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COMMENT


THE LAST WORD


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


IF ONLY IT WAS AS EASY AS ABC As I write this piece, the Government has announced new measures to combat the spread of Covid-19, including closing bars and restaurants before 10pm. Sectors of the economy that had started to see green shoots will once again be wondering what the future holds. In addition to the C word, we still have the B


word hanging over us too. We may officially have left (therefore, Brexit as a term no longer exists), but the continued uncertainty as to the terms of our eventual trading relationships is another barrier to creating the confidence and stable platform that business craves. Perhaps a dose of A (for action) might go well with the B and C. This announcement followed the new “rule of


six” restrictions on social gatherings. While not directly impacting workplaces, it will affect confidence, and with it the ability of sectors such as hospitality, tourism, leisure and aviation. The Eat Out to Help Out scheme is estimated


to have served up about 100 million meals. This has been a lifeline for some, while others – particularly smaller independent businesses – reported that they hadn’t been able to benefit from the scheme since they did not have sufficient space to make this viable.


IT’S LIFE JIM, BUT NOT AS WE KNOW IT Before guidance on working from home changed, many parents returned to offices after schools reopened. The onus has been on employers to ensure workplaces are adapted to be safe for employees, and we saw many examples in our forums of members sharing best practice with each other. In April, according to the ONS, 46% of the UK


workforce did some work from home. In the East Midlands, the figure was 45.1%. The latest estimate is that around one in four throughout the UK continue to work from home. This has led to a changed landscape in terms of where and how people work, which is likely to continue and to become the new norm. While this represents opportunities for


improved work-life balance for some and a respite from the daily commute, it does have


74 business network October 2020 More people are gaining a better work-life balance


ripple effects for the footfall in towns and cities. Estimates suggest most cities are currently seeing footfall at about 50%, with London being at just three per cent when compared to pre- lockdown levels. Smaller towns and villages may benefit, with individuals travelling less and obtaining supplies locally, but it is likely to have a lasting legacy on retail and the multitude of sectors that ordinarily rely on trade from commuters, such as dry cleaners, sandwich shops and public transport operators.


END OF FURLOUGH IS NIGH With the furlough scheme winding down at the end of October, further job losses are inevitable for some sectors, although the new Job Support Scheme is welcomed. The latest figures show the wages of about 9.1 million workers are temporarily being subsidised by the scheme, and the latest unemployment rate in the East Midlands is 4.4%. Younger workers have been hit hardest as


many work in hospitality and retail. The Kickstart scheme has been introduced by the Government to help address this, offering unemployed young


people the opportunity to gain six months’ work experience to give them a head-start and an entry point into a career path. The scheme will fully fund the placements and


employers can apply for the scheme via the Chamber. For many young people, this will offer a lifeline, and employers have much to gain from the energy, new ideas and enthusiasm a young person can bring. It hasn’t all been doom and gloom, however,


with Amazon opening a fulfilment centre in Sutton-in-Ashfield that will create 1,000 good- quality jobs, ranging from hi-tech warehouse operations to HR and finance.


BUSINESS AWARDS BRING OUT BEST OF REGION Speaking of energy and enthusiasm, the judging panels met the finalists in the Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Business Awards run by the Chamber. They’re always a highlight in the Chamber calendar, and this year has been no exception – highlighting and celebrating the very best of business in the East Midlands. I know the Chamber board members and


senior management staff who make up the judging panel find the process stimulating, but challenging. Winners will be announced at virtual awards ceremonies later this year and I’m looking forward to finding out who the worthy winners are. As the actual last word, I feel I must leave on a


positive note, since positivity, humour and optimism – with a healthy measure of realism – is what will see us though as a business community. As a leadership and management trainer by trade, I know confidence is critical to being seen as competent and this, I believe, applies to all things. We have proven our ability to innovate and


“pivot” (the favourite new term on social media) over the past few months, and we are therefore competent to navigate our way through these uncertain times – and we should be loud and proud about it. Whatever the future holds, I’m confident in the ability of our region to thrive and prosper. After all, we are literally at the centre of everything (well, the UK anyway)!


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