Whatever your thoughts on the government’s management of the pandemic, and I made my opinions very clear in my blog last week, there is no doubt that there was a lack of preparedness for the range of actions that they have subsequently had to take.
From the ordering of PPE through to business support measures, Ministers have been in a reactive rather than pro-active mode. Even the impressive chancellor Rishi Sunak had to make a few attempts before he was able to claim that he had (mostly) satisfied the needs of the business community.
As we anticipate a relaxation of the lockdown this weekend, it is to be hoped that lessons have been learned and that we will be better prepared for the transition back to work than we were for the ‘stay at home’ period that we have had to endure.
First and foremost, that means clear and consistent messages from our political leaders. Which sectors do they consider essential and ready to return? And what new health and safety regulations will they be expected to apply?
The construction sector and even more bizarrely those who work for utilities companies, were subjected to dogs abuse in the early weeks of the lockdown, so we must do all we can to avoid a repeat performance in the coming weeks.
Equally, the hand grenade that the PM threw into the hospitality sector with his advice to stop visiting pubs and restaurants – without ordering the closure of those establishments- cannot in any way be repeated.
Indeed, it is evident now that our hospitality sector was the first in and will be the last out of this crisis and so it is imperative that measures are put in place now to ensure a longer term financial safety net for the industry. The issue of rents is a priority that needs to be addressed, whilst the furlough scheme should be reviewed and adjusted accordingly.
Indeed, furloughing in general needs to be subject to a rethink. I have always thought it a mistake to force people to do nothing in order to receive their salaries.
It will be months before most SMEs are able to return to the same sort of sales levels that they were predicting pre-Coronavirus. If the furlough arrangements are scrapped in their entirety or are not flexible enough to allow those furloughed staff to do at least part-time hours, then there will be an explosion in lay off’s and redundancies through the Summer.
Nobody is pretending that any of this is easy. However, whatever the excuses the government may have had for not being better prepared going into this crisis, there will be little forgiveness or sympathy for them if they do not handle the post-crisis transition in a much more efficient and effective manner.