How is Gloucestershire economy placed to bounce back?
By Rob Freeman | 20th May 2020
Business leaders in Gloucestershire have welcomed the realistic tone of Chancellor Rishi Sunak's assessment of the British economy.
And they found glimmers of optimism among the bleak outlook painted by the Chancellor - while calling for more realism about what lies ahead.
The Chancellor was speaking to the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committed after it was revealed the number of people claiming unemployment benefit had soared by 856,000 in April to 2.1million.
And he admitted a full recovery from the damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic would take time.
Punchline canvassed the views of senior business figures across the county.
David Owen, chief executive, GFirst LEP
"First and foremost, nothing should detract from the suffering of those who have lost loved ones during this pandemic and we must, collectively, continue to do all that we can to ensure we all remain as safe as possible.
"The impact on our economy, both locally and nationally, is unprecedented and there is no doubt that it will take time for businesses to recover and for new operating models to prove successful in a climate of social distancing.
"We know that our businesses are working incredibly hard, with Government support, to protect as many employees as possible and will continue to do so.
"We also know that what our economy benefits from is certainty and at the present time we are operating in a climate of global uncertainty that will take its toll on our local businesses."
Sam Holliday, development manager for Gloucestershire, Federation of Small Businesses
"I think everybody in business is trying to stay as positive as possible but we can't get away from the fact that all the evidence points to this been a very long road to recovery.
"The analogy I give is that when the Prime Minister first announced lockdown it was like he had switched all the lights off in every room in your house.
"The idea that at some point all the lights will come on in every room again at the same time is simply not feasible - it's going to be room by room and it's going to take a long time to get back to the whole house being fully lit again.
"So yes, we need to stay as forward thinking and optimistic as we can but the reality is that getting out of the coronavirus crisis is going to take far longer than getting into it and therefore the Chancellor's words will resonate with the thoughts of many of our local businesses."
Kevan Blackadder, director, Cheltenham BID
"It was actually quite reassuring to hear a realistic view of what is likely to happen next from the Chancellor.
"The new Governor of the Bank of England, Andrew Bailey, said earlier this month he believed a slump would be followed by an unusually fast recovery, which has always seemed unlikely.
"Rishi Sunak is basing his more pessimistic view on what is happening elsewhere in the world, where restrictions have been lifted and recovery has been slow.
"We are expecting - whenever retail and hospitality businesses actually open - that there will be a lot of interest initially but that consumer nervousness around both the virus and their own finances will mean they will be cautious on what they spend and where they spend.
"I am optimistic though that if we get the correct social distancing measures in place in both shops and food and drink businesses in Cheltenham, something we are working hard on now, some confidence will return during the summer months and we can have a positive feel around the town centre relatively quickly."
Scott Lawrence, head of corporate services, Hazlewoods
"There is no doubt that the pandemic has brought about rapid change and life after furlough is going to be very difficult for many businesses.
"The reality is there will be winners and losers. If you happen to be supplying essentials, whether that be PPE or bicycles, business is probably better than ever. Others in live events or hospitality have seen their income fall to zero over night.
"For the majority of business, there has been a pause with many reporting a healthy order book currently on hold.
"Business owners tend to be optimistic and many are expecting to bounce back. How quickly will, as Rishi Sunak refers, depend on how quickly consumers "get back to the habits that they had" and start spending.
"In the UK we are quite dogmatic and I suspect while some will be nervous about coming out of lockdown, others will not.
"It is worth remembering that certain parts of our economy are dictated by statutory deadlines, housing needs and Government spending. These should be more resilient to the nerves associated with coming out of lockdown.
"Indeed, with flights restricted, our hotels and holiday businesses should be expecting high levels of demand in quarter three and quarter four of this year.
"Unfortunately, we are in unknown territory and one hopes that Rishi Sunak is airing on the side of caution with his warning, and previous commentary about a rapid bounce back, aligned with business optimism, will see our local economy prosper.:
Ian Mean, Gloucestershire director, Business West
"The devastating impact of coronavirus was painted in depressing human detail by the Chancellor.
"The speed of the economy recovery depends on how many employees will be able to get back to work with safety paramount in that return.
"While it is vital we reopen our economy in safety, vacancy rates are very low generally with the exception of the IT, health and logistics sectors.
"The low vacancy rates in most employment sectors are a harbinger of worse to come with a big influx of young people from colleges and universities now coming onto the jobs market.
"While the Government is recognised to have been innovative in its cash help for businesses to survive coronavirus, the spectre of such high, demoralising unemployment is a challenge that must be gripped quickly."
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