Coronavirus shines a light on us all. Families confined together. NHS workers under overwhelming pressure, clapped from doorways, bringing communities closer. Traditional and social media providing a lifeline of news and escape. Retail and delivery drivers as the fifth emergency service.
The thousands of businesses that the CBI is speaking to in our daily webinars are acutely aware the spotlight is on them. Reputations are forged in a crisis. And the way Britain’s businesses help the country through the pandemic will shape their relationship with society for a generation. This is not seen as a burden, it is something business leaders embrace. While the crisis is having a drastic effect on many businesses, one question I hear most from firms is not what am I due, but what can I do?
There have been some villains. For example, some firms have rightly been called out for putting staff at unnecessary risk. But they are very few. The vast majority of companies are doing their utmost to contribute to the national effort in unprecedented times.
And throughout, the CBI has seen three clear themes emerge, which are becoming business-led principles for recovery.
The first is to care for your employees. Firms across the country are innovating for safety in ways we never imagined. Protective infrastructure in shops and factories. Transforming working from home. Mental health mentors. Generosity, when affordable, on pay and leave. The widespread determination to keep people safe physically, mentally and financially is right, and impressive. Treat people as you would like to be treated, and they will stick with you to rebuild our economy together.
The second is financial fairness. The Chancellor has acted swiftly to make funds available. But the financial support is finite. Firms are clear that they should only draw down help when it is desperately needed, not just wanted, or there will be little left for others in the months ahead. And that means everybody’s belts will be tightened. No waste, no extravagant reward, no exploiting customers. Fairness is the only sustainable path. Take only what you need; today’s prudence pays for tomorrow’s recovery. For good or ill, firms’ actions will not be forgotten.
The third is simple. To help national efforts. Traditional business boundaries have disappeared. Automotive and aviation production transformed to make ventilators. Breweries and distilleries churning out sanitiser. Manufacturers stepping up on PPE equipment. Tech made freely available to the most isolated. Staff redeployed to where need is greatest. Huge efforts in cash, kind, and time. Never has the economy been so agile and collaborative. And maybe some of the old boundaries and blocks to productivity are gone, for good.
Tens of thousands of businesses are already delivering on these principles. This is how businesses will survive, continue to operate through the crisis help to rebuild the economy on the other side. This matters hugely. Ensuring COVID doesn’t exacerbate existing geographical and socioeconomic health inequalities, as the IFS has warned, requires the combined efforts of civil society, enterprise and policymakers. Good businesses still operating means good jobs maintained. And that means livelihoods protected for the recovery.