I am writing this message the day after the Prime Minister’s extraordinary statement of 23rd March – a statement that takes the country at large and the business community into totally uncharted territory. I am sure that many of you have already had your businesses defined as “non-essential”, obliging you to close. Others will either have not been mentioned in the Government guidance, the manufacturing industry falls into that category, or you will be listed as an exception to the closure notice. Perhaps the legal position is that you can remain open but you are grappling with whether you should remain open. If that is your situation, you are no doubt trying to balance the health and safety of your staff and doing your bit to delay the spread of the virus on the one hand with the needs of your customers and the survival prospect of your business on the other. It is a desperately fine line to tread. Commentators have urged us to look to Italy for a picture of what might happen in the UK. In Italy, a partial lockdown was implemented on 9th March when there were 9,172 cases and this was extended to close all factories and halt non-essential production on 22nd March (59,000 cases). This would suggest that, if the UK follows a similar pattern, we might go into total lockdown by around 5th April – the Sunday before Easter. Might this suggest an enforced, extended Easter break for all of business and industry?
Wherever your business finds itself, regrettably there are no easy answers to the many questions that arise. Business, like every other sector from government down, is having to “make it up as we go” because there is no precedent. A crisis tends to bring out both the best and worst of people but let’s focus on the best. Banbury has a great business community, linked by the Chamber of Commerce and other associations. Perhaps the Chamber’s part in this is to link businesses with specific needs for assistance to other businesses with the ability and resource to help out. Another area in which your Chamber might be able to help is with funnelling assistance from business (the part of business that is in a position to help) to the community as the financial situation tightens and even the purchase of basic essentials will become hard for many. Agreeing our response is a work in progress for the Chamber, work that is now happening by telephone conference rather than face to face meetings as we also heed the instruction of Government to minimise contact. For the same reason, all Chamber events are either postponed or, in some cases, we might be able to switch to a phone conference event like we did with the Bank of England briefing on 26th March.
If we can help you to find answers to questions you might have then we commit to doing our best but caution that there may simply be no answers to some questions at present. If business at large needs to make representations to local government or our MP, this might be more effectively done via the Chamber than as individuals. Please raise subjects if you would like us to take them up on your behalf. In the meantime, keep safe and healthy – we wish you the very best and hope that our May newsletter will find us in an improving situation.
Chamber Board Member