As Bristol businesses face two unprecedented events this winter – the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the end of the Brexit transition period – Business West, Bristol One City and Bristol City Council hosted a special online event to help them prepare.
Coming a day before the launch of the One City Economic Strategy, which sets out key principles guiding the recovery and renewal of the Bristol city region following coronavirus, the event was a statement of intent from the One City partners, who are leading efforts to enable businesses to bounce back from COVID-19.
Bristol Chamber & Initiative Chief Executive James Durie chaired the meeting, which took place via Zoom. In his introduction, he acknowledged the dual challenges of coronavirus and Brexit to businesses this winter and sought to reassure the business community regarding the long-term future of business and economy in Bristol.
He then introduced Christina Gray, Bristol’s Director of Public Health – the first of 3 speakers to tackle the subject of coronavirus.
Christina began with an update on the latest coronavirus figures for Bristol and the wider South West region. Like the rest of the UK, Bristol and the South West are starting to see a rise in infections, with 186 cases per 100,000 in Bristol as of 13th October 2020.
Winter always poses a public health challenge, said Christina. In any given year, incidences of flu and cold snaps contribute to a higher death rate in winter than the summer months, she added. But, of course, this year health authorities will also have coronavirus to contend with. As Christina put it “It will be a long haul, things will be different this year”.
With infection rates increasing and the introduction of a new regional alert system, Christina explained what the three-tier lockdown measures mean for businesses.
“Coronavirus is the social virus”, she said, referencing the fact that coronavirus spreads through person to person contact. That being so, the national assessment framework, which guides decision making regarding the imposition of local lockdowns, emphasises triangulation rather than trigger points.
In other words, instead of basing the decision to place an area in tier 2 or 3 restrictions, decisions will be made on information regarding a number of factors, such as outbreak clusters, rather than case numbers alone. Tier 3 is where business restrictions kick in.
Aside from discussing the three-tier lockdown restrictions, Christina proceeded to offer some general advice to businesses in case their employees get sick. If someone in your workplace is unwell, you need to ensure they isolate and get a test, adding that staff will receive a £500 payment from government if they are on a low income and need to self-isolate.
Should more than two or more coronavirus cases be associated with your workplace within 14 days, Public Health will need to be advised, the health protection team will then: carry out a risk assessment; provide public health advice, including whether you should close your business and where necessary, establish a multi-agency incident management team to manage the outbreak.
There is little spread of the virus within business as COVID-secure environment and behaviours are practiced, the virus tends to spread in informal settings such as car sharing or socialising with colleagues.
Christina then made reference to the new We Are Bristol helpline, which has been launched to help support people through the winter by signposting them to council services.
Following Christina Gray, her Bristol City Council (BCC) colleagues Sally Hogg and Sophie Shirt spoke about work being undertaken to combat flu this winter and upcoming COVID-19 campaigns to inform and educate the general public.
Onto the subject of Brexit, Business West Director of Policy Matt Griffith, identified five key business ‘crunch points’ or issues that businesses will face in the event of a no deal Brexit.
First, Matt identified ‘border issues’. The customs border between the UK and Northern Ireland is still not yet fully resolved and is a sticking point in negotiations between the UK and EU. Furthermore, businesses will need to contend with more paperwork when exporting to the EU from 1st January 2021.
Logistics and getting goods to market was the second topic Matt identified. Until now, the movement of goods between the UK and EU has been frictionless with no border checks. This will change next year, meaning that getting goods to market will be much slower than present.
Thirdly, Matt identified so-called ‘behind the border issues’, referring to aspects such as regulation, standards, and certification. Issues of key importance for exporters highlighted by Matt includes EORI numbers and rules of origin.
Labour force and skills impacts are expected as a result of the ending of free movement. Business West research carried out in 2019 in partnership with IPPR found that 75% of all EU workers in Bristol would not be eligible to work in the UK under the government’s immigration plans.
Matt finalised his talk by urging businesses to pay attention to sector specific issues and to access the award-winning Trading Through Brexit service for general advice on how to prepare for the end of the transition period.
Following Matt Griffith, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Bristol City Council Jean Candler spoke about BCC’s no deal scenario planning.
She spoke about how BCC had undertaken extensive data analysis to understand local economic conditions and how they would be impacted by a no-deal to decide its approach.
Furthermore, she spoke about the importance of building consensus among city partners, in addition to investing in skills and making the case to government to further devolution as regards skills.
After the speakers there was a Q&A session, which offered local businesses an opportunity to quiz the experts on their COVID-19 and Brexit preparations.