Unlock, revival, recovery, the new normal….call it what you want, the West of England business community has a vital role to play in restoring anything near normality.
There remain more questions than answers when it comes to how we go about easing lockdown measures, but the region’s political and civic leaders are looking to the commercial sector for solutions.
That became abundantly clear in the latest Business West Initiative Meeting focused on #TradingThroughCoronavirus, which was joined by some 130 business leaders to keep connected and informed throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
It spoke volumes of the importance of the updates that MP Darren Jones took a break from his busy Westminster schedule to Zoom in as a speaker.
The same applied to West of England Mayor Tim Bowles and Bristol City Council’s Director of Public Health Christina Gray.
And it became obvious that while our health and social care perform heroics in their efforts to combat coronavirus, that the region as a whole needs our vibrant business sector to rise to future challenges.
Down the years, the West has prospered thanks to the likes of people ranging from Isambard Brunel to Steve Lansdown and businesses ranging from Airbus to Pieminister as well as top-ranked universities.
And now we need that innovation more than ever to help people get back to work and stay safe in the process through, for example, social distancing.
Indeed, a proverbial gauntlet was thrown down to business leaders to take the initiative and unite against Covid-19 during the webinar.
“Coronavirus is going to have profound and long-lasting impact, Christina told the webinar by way of rallying call.
“But we can’t separate the economy and health or health and wealth – they are absolutely inter-twined and must work together.
“Our local businesses in particular are hugely important because you’re our local people and you employ our local people.
“You’re part of the fabric of the society that we need to start to re-build through business and educational skills.
“We need to look together at opportunities opening up and while some sectors and areas of business may take much longer to recover but there are new ways of doing business and we should be mindful of the need to grasp them.”
These sentiments were echoed by Mr Bowles who wants to see local businesses take a global lead in the new world.
“Out of crisis come opportunities which might be a cliché but we need to start thinking along those lines,” he said. “And we need to use Business West to start sharing good practice to show people how you can re-set.
“It’s not going to be top-down with councils and authorities telling businesses how to re-focus. We have to have entrepreneurs and innovators looking at how we do that.
“We’re looking at how we re-set the Local Industrial Strategy to identify the unique opportunities and special skills we have as a region so we can start planning regional recovery and have a global impact – something we’ve always done well as a region.”
Public transport in lockdown and the socially-distant world was another topic of conversation that showed things will never be the same.
But it is heartening to know our MPs are fighting the business community’s corner in the corridors of power in Westminster, judging by Bristol North West MP’s pledge to help.
He applauded Business West’s #TradingThroughCoronavirus service for helping businesses across his constituency and providing invaluable insight.
But he also asked for feedback from the business community to make sure Government policies were having the desired effect.
“We’re looking at what happens next in terms of economic support from the Treasury,” he said.
“There has been a significant amount of borrowing and spending to help us through but what’s not clear is what that looks like as we lift restrictions and we try to get back to business as normal.
“There is a lot of debate to take place and so these calls are really useful as you are on the frontline of the policy we’re debating in Westminster.
“So I welcome to keeping in touch through Business West to hear how this stuff is panning out in real-life and to raise those case studies with Government.”
That is an offer that can’t be refused.
• The Business West Trading Through Coronavirus hub, provides access to guidance and advice in key areas. People can sign up for updates, which are being sent out by email to businesses on a near-daily basis.
Rob Stewart is an account manager at Social, an integrated communications agency based in Bristol.