In this series we ask key figures in the region and from our core sectors to share the insight their position affords them.
To start the series, we spend time with Beckie Hart, Regional Director at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) who shares her thoughts on how our region’s businesses are coping during the COVID-19 pandemic, information on the support available and what she thinks are the key learnings for the future.
What would you say business leaders need most from Government now?
Throughout the COVID-19 crisis we have been speaking to business leaders every day during seminars and one-to-one conversations. This has enabled the CBI to shape the regional and national conversations with Government. I would say businesses need guidance right now: a framework that isn’t too prescriptive, but that enables them to understand what is expected of them and what they must do practically in order to restart their businesses safely.
What support is available in our region?
Government support packages for business have been impressive, particularly in the way that they have listened to businesses and adapted measures in recognition of their needs. From a regional perspective councils and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) have really played their part.
Councils have worked incredibly hard to get the Business Support Grants out and I would urge businesses to check their eligibility if they haven’t done so already, as there are still a fair number of grants unclaimed.
The LEPs have had real success helping businesses collaborate and keeping them informed – for example LEPs have been instrumental in helping businesses source the personal protective equipment (PPE) they need to protect their staff as well as helping to solve recruitment challenges during the pandemic.
We’re hoping to see equally significant and well-timed support as we start to emerge and reanimate businesses after lockdown. We’ve been heavily involved in conversations around the need for flexible iterations of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, that allow businesses to get the support they need over the next few months.
From your unique perspective as a representative for the region’s businesses, what would you say has stood out during the pandemic?
The Yorkshire and Humber region is very varied with a real mix of businesses including retail, construction, energy, a major port and logistics. Throughout the COVID-19 crisis many of these businesses have never stopped. Many service providers and businesses that might not have been front-of-mind have built and cemented their reputations in the past few weeks.
I have been impressed by how utterly agile the region’s enterprises are. Our economy in Yorkshire and Humber is made up of more than 90% SMEs – but at every level from the big corporates to the freelancers, there have been countless examples of businesses being heroes – offering help and support to communities and individuals, reinventing or repurposing their operations to fulfil a new and changing need and showing the human face of their business in a way they might not have done in the past.
It’s early days of course, but can you see any learnings from this time?
I think we have seen that most employees can be trusted to work from home with a strong sense of common purpose. I hope as we emerge from COVID-19 we can draw a line under the culture of presenteeism and foster opportunities to improve the work/life balance.
The global nature of the pandemic will require us to learn and collaborate with other countries and it would be great to think that we can build on this to develop our international collaboration in future, whether that is between different national offices in one company, or between different businesses in the same industry or supply chain.
Find out the latest information to help guide you through the advice and support schemes available in response to COVID-19 on our hub.