Businesses in the West of England face a challenge like no other as the national response to the COVID-19 outbreak has taken hold.
Employers across the region have moved quickly to adjust to new measures whilst dealing with a flurry of information and guidance from government about what to do and how to access business support. Concerns about the pressure on the NHS and public bodies combines with anxiety about how businesses can continue trading as the economy is placed into temporary hibernation.
As director of a small and growing business in Bristol, the most striking thing about this crisis for me is that everyone is impacted. Whatever sector we are in, we are indeed all in this together. The principles of collaboration and working together through have never been more important than they are now.
It was heartening therefore to join a conversation with many other businesses yesterday (2 April 2020) to hear more about the collective efforts to respond to this crisis and recover from it. The West of England Initiative was set up more than 30 years ago as a platform for bringing businesses together to benefit of the region’s economy. They hosted a webinar for businesses to provide an update on the local response and the support available for businesses.
“We’re in completely unprecedented times and it’s really important that we come together as a business community to address this,” said Initiative President Richard Bonner in his introduction to the webinar.
That spirit of togetherness has helped to catalyse action in a number of areas which were shared on the webinar:
• Business West has quickly launch its Trading Through Coronavirus hub, which 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.
• Meanwhile, Business West’s Executive Board is meeting every day, while its newly-formed task force team speaks with businesses and partner across the region. They’re also providing a direct link into national conversations with government being led by the British Chambers of Commerce.
• Bristol’s Deputy Mayor and co-chair of the One City Plan’s economy board Cllr Craig Cheyney explained that government funding of grants for businesses was issued to Bristol City Council this week, and more than 1,800 grants will be issued within days. Information for businesses on how to bid for grants is available here.
• Paul Coles, BT Group Regional Director, explained how its centres were keeping the region connected in the face of an increase in traffic of up to 60% and a surge in 999 calls which are handled by its team.
• John Chaplin, Director of External Affairs and Special Projects at The Bristol Port Company, explained his colleagues’ contribution to ensuring key supplies continue to come into the region. In the last week alone, the port helped ensure that millions of items of food reached the region alongside materials to support continued work on critical infrastructure at Hinkley Point C nuclear power station.
• Bristol Airport’s public affairs manager James Ryan explained how the aviation industry is adjusting to the impact, with some operations continuing on a reduced level. “I’m pleased to say the recovery phase is something we are now actively thinking about and planning,” he said.
“The recovery path from Covid-19 will be unpredictable but the aviation sector and regional airports such as Bristol Airport will be key for enabling businesses and people to reconnect again with markets and countries in future.”
Whilst there are undoubtedly challenges ahead, we can be encouraged by how the region is coming together to find ways to address this crisis. Unprecedented times call for unprecedented responses, and businesses are rallying to that cause.
“I’ve seen in unprecedented way as a business community and a business organisation together with the partners in the city how we’ve pulled together,” said Initiative CEO and Business West Executive Director James Durie.
“I think lots of barriers have come down, [and people are saying]: ‘Actually, we are all in this together. How can we help businesses to sustain themselves and help people to feel safe?’”
I’m confident that this spirit of collaboration and focus on supporting each other will help us to get through this crisis successfully.
A full recording of the webinar can be seen below. Click here to view the webinar on its original platform.
Ben Lowndes is Director (South West) at Social, an integrated agency based in Bristol.