Words by Frank McKenna, Chief Executive and Group Chairman, Downtown in Business
It wasn’t so long ago that the Prime Minister, before he was Prime Minister, was saying “F**k business”.
Well, nobody in the world of politics is saying that now. If the pandemic has highlighted anything it is how important business, small, medium and large, is to the country.
An incredible effort has been led by Corporate Britain through this unprecedented crisis, with private sector initiatives being launched on a daily basis by entrepreneurs, business owners and their teams to alleviate some of the harsher challenges of the coronavirus crisis.
Of course, there are exceptions, and it is to be hoped that those firms who dragged their feet protecting staff, insurance companies who are finding loopholes to not pay out to businesses in need, those who are taking obscene advantage of the government’s financial support packages or banks who are proving slow to lend to those in need, will pay a heavy price when we get through this thing. But, by and large, the world of commerce has proved that when the going gets tough they step up to the plate and do what they can to help.
It must also be said that the government has, by and large, reciprocated in returning the favour and offering support to business in ways previously we would have thought impossible. Tax holidays, grants, picking-up of salaries and a host of other offers.
Inevitably some have fallen through this support net. The self- employed, rightly, fee hard done by. Nonetheless, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has done a sterling job in doing what he can to ensure that post-COVID19 the economy has a fair to middling chance of bouncing back.
It will have to, because we are about to see eye watering numbers that make previous recessions look like a cakewalk. Nonetheless, this situation is like no other, and if politicians and business hold their nerve then there is reason for optimism.
Some economists are predicting a significant spike following the slump and although some companies will be reluctant to invest in growth plans, we know from the experience of 2008 that it is those firms who demonstrate an entrepreneurial flair, courage and positive vision who not only survive but thrive during a downturn.
Beyond the business world, many other heroes have emerged too. If some political leaders will be having to reflect on their narrative around business, that is nothing to the ripping up of speeches and briefings that must surely be taking place in the Home Office and other Whitehall departments right now.
Scapegoating immigrants is harder to do when immigrants have nursed the country’s leader back to health. Convincing the community that cleaners, shopkeepers, care workers and the myriad of NHS staff are ‘non-essential’ will be a tad more difficult, as will measuring the worth of an individual by their annual salary alone.
The crisis should also mark the death knell of the abhorrent economic approach that has become to known as austerity. The woefully inadequate infrastructure in our health and care sector and our shameful inability to look after our elderly has been a lesson that will surely have been learned by those in the corridors of power.
A decade of underfunding of our local authorities and other public services cannot be corrected overnight. But I would expect a very different approach from government budgets of the future.
This has been a horrible time for the country and indeed the world. However, out of adversity can come good. If attitudes towards those who have been somewhat taken for granted in recent times, including those of us in business, change for the better, then that is something positive that can be taken away from this exceptional period in all our lives.
If you want to nominate a Business Hero – a company or individual who you know is contributing that extra two metres – please visit www.downtowninbusiness.com/business-heroes.