Watch the webinar
- James Harding, Co-founder and Editor, Tortoise Media (Chair)
- Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, Director-General, CBI
- Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands
The impact of the government’s new measures
We’ve had around 10 days to digest the government’s new support package. And the CBI has been hearing from hundreds of businesses on their views and perspectives on the measures and their early impact. Generally speaking, according to Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, the CBI’s Director-General, while the cashflow measures – such as VAT deferral – have seen a fairly positive reaction, the picture is more mixed when it comes to the Job Support Scheme (JSS). Many businesses have told the CBI that while the JSS has been a real help for those businesses who have re-opened, it’s less helpful for businesses (and sectors) who are unable to do so.
The CBI feels there now needs to be a stock-take on what further support might be necessary, and the JSS must be kept under review. Carolyn confirmed that the CBI has been working with those sectors who are most under pressure, such as aviation and hospitality, on potential new or adapted measures, such as airport testing, the 10pm curfew, mass testing, and a potential tiered approach to lockdowns.
The situation in the West Midlands
Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, agreed with Carolyn’s analysis. The JSS has been welcomed in the area, as it works well for the many businesses that have reopened but are running below capacity. But the big issue is the sectors that can’t open at all. The exhibition and conferences sector (particularly the NEC) are in huge trouble. They were expecting to reopen on 1 October, but that date was cancelled, and they’ve now started the second round of consultations on job losses. So, there’s still a need for additional support for those sectors that can’t trade at all.
The importance of clarity and communication
According to Andy, there’s been a huge challenge around communication during the pandemic. For example, the differences between regional restrictions and a local lockdown. We need real clarity and simplicity in communication, alongside unity in local leadership. Andy highlighted the weekly press conference that they run in the West Midlands as a good example of this. The conference is held by all the relevant local leaders (from the NHS, the Police, the local council, and Andy himself), and there’s been a good response to this approach.
Carolyn welcomed Andy’s approach, highlighting the importance of clarity for both businesses and the public. With the UK currently experiencing nine different kinds of local restrictions (and with four in Greater Manchester alone), it’s easy to lose track of what’s happening where. One possible solution is something like the tiering system Canada uses. Using this approach, instead of lots of different local lockdowns, you have three categories of lockdown: red, amber, and green. The advantage of this approach is that it’s simple and provides clarity.
Test & Trace in the West Midlands
In terms of Test & Trace in the West Midlands, the picture hasn’t really changed since the scheme was launched, with around 65% of contacts being traced successfully – a number that has held fairly consistently throughout. What has changed, however, is an acknowledgement that contact tracing can’t be done purely using a centralised approach. In the West Midlands, for example, those contacts who weren’t dealt with centrally are followed up with local ‘boots on the ground’. And when both approaches have been used, the number of those being successfully contacted rises to around 80%. The lesson here is that you need both elements for the scheme to be successful.
How should the West Midlands ‘build back better’ from the pandemic?
Andy explained that when it came to future planning, the West Midlands came together to formulate a plan, with business playing a critical role. The three priorities of the region are retraining/reskilling, improving the underlying competitiveness of the local economy, and prioritising those key sectors which will provide the necessary growth. One of the key issues though, is the necessity to get government investment behind the big projects. For example, the electrification of the automotive industry won’t work without large-scale investment. The three priority sectors are automotive, life sciences, and the creative sector. But this is a long-term commitment.