Cautious roadmap to recovery offers hope

By Dave Jenkins

“The end is in sight” were Boris Johnson’s words as he announced the steps the country will take to ease lockdown. And it is, finally, beginning to feel like it.

The big date for parents of school-age children is March 8th – it remains a controversial topic but many parents will breathe a sigh of relief when they can quit their second jobs as unqualified teachers and focus on their actual, paid jobs. Quite apart from the tremendous strain this has been on parents and children alike, reopening schools is a vital economic decision. In order to begin to open up our economy once more, we can’t have great swathes of the workforce homeschooling their children.

The next big date – step 2 in the four-step plan – will be April 12th, the earliest date from which large parts of the economy will be able to reopen. This is when we could see non-essential shops, gyms, hairdressers and beauty salons open their doors for business again, as well as self-catered holiday lets (for individual households). Pubs and restaurants, too, can begin to serve outside. Hospitality, cinemas, theatres and stadiums (with capacity limits) will have to wait until May 17th at the earliest and the hope is that all remaining lockdown measures will be relaxed from June 21st, the date that the events industry has waited nearly a year to hear.

Of course, all of these steps are dependent on conditions being met with regards the spreading of the virus and the vaccination programme. Caution was the key word in the Prime Minister’s briefing, the hope being that these steps will be irreversible and we shall never return to lockdown again, a “one-way road to freedom”. This is important, for as much as we all want lockdown to be over, businesses to be able to re-open, and our lives to return to normal, the damage to those closed industries would be far worse if they were to re-open too quickly and then had to close again. Taking baby steps is, in my opinion, the right approach. I think we’ve all had enough of the government over-promising and then having to backtrack.

For those businesses having to wait two to three months longer before being able to reopen, Boris has promised that he will not “pull the rug out”, hinting that there will be further extensions to many of the financial support schemes, likely announced in the Budget next week. This will be key to ensuring that businesses in the industries due to reopen in the latter stages of the plan survive until that point.

With the continued rapid rollout of the vaccination programme that the UK is excelling at and the following of the rules at each step of re-opening, there is real hope that the summer could see a huge bounce-back of the economy as pent-up demand is unlocked. Money will be spent in pubs and restaurants, in shops, at entertainment venues, on holidays. Of course, this won’t be a magic wand. Industries such as Hospitality and Travel & Tourism that have been severely impacted by the pandemic will likely need support long into 2022. However, not only will this be a massive boost to business confidence, soaring demand for services will mean the creation of jobs. As redundancies continue to mount, this will give hope to so many currently fighting for jobs and to recruiters trying to connect their talent with opportunities.

The road to recovery may be longer than hoped for by some but this approach helps to ensure we continue down the one-way street to freedom without having to make a U-turn back to lockdown – an outcome no-one wants.

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