Cornwall Chamber CEO Kim Conchie

Lockdown, schmockdown! What a pain – again!

I know that crystal balls only exist in fairy tales but genuinely it has never been harder to put together a budget, a strategy, a plan of activities for the coming 12 months than it has in those last nine months of 2020; and now again, just after we hoped over the Christmas break that we could start afresh in 2021. The LEP’s Business Cell had actually put our minds to recovery back in November when were proudly Tier 1 heroes. And now look?

For those reasons, I don’t think anybody in business is enjoying this bumpy road but of course there are winners and losers. One of the things I’m encouraging everybody to do, is to take stock of their business model and evaluate what Covid tells us about the future of doing business – that is to say, which are temporary blips and what will this strange time change forever?

I know a couple of large hotels are completely rethinking how they will structure the teams to interact with staying guests as distinct from spa guests, restaurant guests, and so on. Some distribution businesses are moving much more quickly to electric vehicles, drones, driverless transport. Initiatives which would normally take years to implement are happening in weeks.

On the flipside, some traditional businesses that can’t pivot because they have inappropriate premises etc, and those that were dismissed as zombie businesses (which I take to mean, only continuing to exist because interest rates are low, and banks are loath to foreclose) are being rushed out of business.

Cornwall Chamber had already decided to lead the thinking by having private sector policies for Cornwall in four areas: Construction, Wellbeing in the Workplace, Renewable Energy and Digital Infrastructure, and these look even more pertinent now, don’t they?

What premises do we need for a prosperous 21st Century in Cornwall when more of us will work from home? Most of the enquiries for commercial space are for massive distribution depots to fulfil online orders. How will physical and mental health of the workforce be affected by these societal slides? How can our lithium, floating offshore wind, wave and tidal resources maximise our place in the world economy going forward? How does the massive investment in Wildanet satellite comms in Cornwall lead the charge towards ultrafast broadband and beyond?

So Covid accelerates some changes which we sort of knew needed to happen. Meanwhile, there are thousands of us worried about our businesses and our jobs. The British Chambers’ Quarterly Economic Survey for Q4 2020 showed the biggest decline in business confidence and output ever recorded. If that quantum of deterioration is not halted quickly, every sector will start feeling the impact of reduced spending and investment; which is why I’m calling on Government to put in place a 15-month plan through to March 2022 giving businesses clarity on such fundamentals as business rates, VAT holiday and the furlough scheme to acknowledge that this bumpy road is going to be affecting us for a while; and signal to businesspeople that we need to get on  and create jobs, prosperity, innovation in spite of sodding Covid.