Chamber in call for clear Covid-19 communications

Relief over the end of the second national lockdown quickly turned into “frustration and devastation” for East Midlands businesses after it was confirmed Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire would be placed into Tier 3 restrictions, believes the Chamber. Chief executive Scott Knowles

(pictured) said rules forcing pubs, restaurants and hotels to close, except for delivery and takeaway service, sent out the message “Christmas is cancelled” in hospitality.

‘The festive period is hugely important to companies in sectors such as hospitality, which will be worst hit by restriction’

He called on the Government to

be clear in its communications over an exit strategy for the three counties and frequently review the tier policy. Scott said: “This will be hugely

frustrating and devastating for many businesses in our region that have been placed into the highest tier of coronavirus restrictions, and comes as a further blow despite the relief of national lockdown coming to an end. It’s heaping uncertainty upon uncertainty, particularly for these sectors that have been hit hardest due to various restrictions since March this year. “The festive period is hugely

important to companies in sectors such as hospitality, which will be worst hit by restrictions forcing them to close other than for takeaways, and would usually help them build up cashflow during the quieter periods of January and February. The tier allocation sends out the message Christmas is effectively cancelled for this segment of the economy.” Ahead of the Prime Minister’s announcement on the future of national lockdown, the Chamber had joined the British Chambers of Commerce in calling on Number 10 to provide evidence and clarity for businesses when making decisions on coronavirus restrictions.

This included: • At least one week’s notice of changes to coronavirus restrictions

• Scientific evidence for any continuing restrictions on specific business sectors

• An economic impact assessment of the impact of continued business restrictions and closures on communities and the wider economy

While chambers of commerce

were thankful for the early notice of national lockdown coming to an end, Scott warned that businesses were still eager to see evidence that Government “has given due consideration to the economic impact of the decisions it’s taking, weighed against an ever-improving understanding of where the risk of infection really lies”. He added: “Businesses have had

enough of the purgatory stemming from the slapdash approach to communication to date – highlighted by the abysmal handling of introducing Tier 3 restrictions in Nottinghamshire – and hope this won’t continue with the uniform strategy promised by the Prime Minister. We also hope that this time,

there will be clear guidance on how areas can move in and out of the different tiers so there is some light at the end of the tunnel. “As testing is expanded and a

vaccination programme is rolled out over the coming months, it’s imperative we respond by loosening restrictions as quickly as possible, rather than waiting while the economy continues to unravel. “It is essential ministers

understand that they can’t simply keep switching businesses on and off like a light switch without expecting severe consequences. Covid-secure businesses will be looking to the Government for a plan that keeps them, and the economy, open throughout winter and beyond.”

The tier allocation has effectively cancelled Christmas

Westminster must deliver on investment promises

The East Midlands is tiring of promises over “levelling up” infrastructure investment from Westminster without any delivery, says the Chamber. Chancellor Rishi Sunak pledged £4bn in funding, alongside a new UK infrastructure bank based in the North, as part of his spending review on 25 November. He said it would be spent on local projects that have

a “real impact” to every day life – such as improvements to high streets, railway stations and roads – and must be delivered during the current term of Government.

‘It’s the private sector that will get us back to growth’

Scott Knowles, chief executive of the Chamber, said

this was a “positive move” and welcomed the fact various departments will work together to deliver the investment, rather than in siloes. However, it must be noted that there have been so many announcements like this over the years by successive chancellors from different political parties, and it is not always clear which funds are new and which ones are repackaged

34 business network December 2020/January 2021

from previous commitments,” he added. “Ultimately, all these pledges amount to absolutely

nothing until we see this money spent on the ground. “We already know the East Midlands receives less

infrastructure investment per head than anywhere else in the country – £268 per capita in 2018/19, just 56% of the £481 national average – and we still await confirmation of the Eastern Leg of HS2. On this one, the proof of the pudding will very much be in the tasting.” During the announcement, the Chancellor confirmed

the Office for Budget Responsibility has forecast GDP will contract by 11.3% in 2020, the largest fall in output for more than three centuries. Scott urged the Government to “recognise it’s the

private sector that will get us back to growth so it must have a proper plan in place to provide the continued support for businesses to get them through this pandemic”. He welcomed the £3bn Restart programme, which will

help more than one million people who are unemployed for over a year find new work, and a commitment that the new Shared Prosperity Fund will match the numbers involved with current EU structural funds.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak

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