As England entered its second national lockdown, over 100 Bristol Chamber & Initiative members attended the latest West of England Initiative meeting on Zoom and heard from Consultant in Public Health at Bristol City Council Sally Hogg about the current state of play regarding COVID, alongside reports from Richard Bonner, James Durie and other speakers.
In the week commencing 26th October infection rates in Bristol were rising fast, Sally said. Illustrating the case, in Bristol the recorded number of COVID-19 infections since March stood at 7,410. Around half of these were recorded in the 14 days previous, with an average of 261 new infections per day and a rate per 100,000 of 394. A figure which is above the national average.
As had been widely reported in the local media, in the penultimate week of October city leaders had begun to escalate the local multi agency response to try and stem the tide of the virus, with the announcement of so-called tier 1+ enhanced measures.
Later the following week, Mayor Marvin Rees had spoken with Health Secretary Matt Hancock about Bristol moving into tier 2 measures, recognising possibility of tier 3 further down the line.
With a tier 2 announcement for Bristol expected at the beginning of November, the news broke of a potential national lockdown on the morning of Saturday 31st October and was later confirmed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson at an evening press conference. Accordingly, Bristol along with the rest of England entered national lockdown measures, avoiding a tier 2 local lockdown, with the escalation of these measures.
Sally informed the meeting that a national lockdown is the right thing to do, with infections in Bristol increasing rapidly amongst 18-22 year olds, followed by those aged 23-30 and in the high-risk 60-69 age group. For business, Sally expressed her relief that a national lockdown was imposed, rather than a local one, as the former is much more generous in terms of financial support. This has since proven so with Chancellor Rishi Sunak announcing the reinstatement of the furlough scheme until March 2021.
In terms of local business support and enforcement, Bristol City Council has sent letters to 18,000 businesses offering advice on how to make their premises COVID-secure, Sally explained. The council had also visited 4,000 premises to check measures were being properly implemented and had issued warning letters, fixed penalty notices and formal closure directions where social distancing restrictions were being breached.
Chief Executive of Destination Bristol John Hirst was next to address the meeting and began by thanking Sally for all the support the Council’s Public Health team had provided businesses in the retail, leisure and hospitality sector in the last 7 months.
John began his presentation by recounting some key figures that demonstrate the tourism sectors’ importance to Bristol’s economy, including the fact that it supports some 30,000 jobs. 2019 had been the sector’s best year ever said John, and at the beginning of this year 2020 was shaping up to be the city’s best ever, until COVID hit.
With much of the city centre locked down until June and July, there was a brief bounce back on the high-street through the summer, but footfall and revenues stalled in September, John added, and the second lockdown will be devastating. Already downscaled plans for the crucial Christmas trading period will be cancelled completely – a hammer blow for an industry that was hopeful of a brisk recovery to try and recoup losses made earlier in the year.
“Christmas this year is going to be completely different,” added John as he urged the Bristol Chamber & Initiative community to continue to work together for “a big recovery in 2021”.
Bristol Old Vic Theatre’s Tom Morris and Julia Head gave a brief overview of their recent activities and a fantastic taster of their plans to use storytelling to bring hope, cheer and reflection over the Christmas period (and are keen to talk to members interested to work with them) before Business West Director of Policy Matt Griffith gave his take on the national lockdown.
Speaking positively Matt said, “This is a rare moment when central government is working at pace and listening to the business community.” That being so, Business West and the British Chambers of Commerce continue to be very busy lobbying and influencing government he said to ensure that sufficient financial support is in place for businesses.
Following a number of swift government policy changes the first time around, Matt encouraged Bristol Chamber & Initiative members to continue to engage to ensure as far as is possible no businesses fall through the cracks and are left behind.
Matt also made mention of our newly relaunched Trading Through Brexit service, which is designed to support businesses in the lead up to the end of the Brexit transition period.
West of England Mayor Tim Bowles then joined the meeting to take questions from local business leaders including Marti Burgess, Corporate & Finance Partner at Bevan Brittan and Chair of Black SouthWest Network, regarding activity associated with the West of England Economic Recovery Taskforce.
The Initiative business leadership team which sits at the centre of Business West has been meeting monthly since earlier this year to bring members and its partners together – the next meeting is on Thursday 3rd December 11.30am-1pm and members will receive invitations closer to the date.