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Baby steps to normality

By Sandy Bell, President of Chew Valley Chamber of Commerce.

In some ways declaring the lockdown was straightforward. The message was simple and people had a clear idea of what was expected of them. Now we’ve started a much more complicated process of getting back to what we’re calling the “new normal.”

If this crisis has done anything it’s to underline the importance of commerce, which generates the funds we rely on for things like the NHS and social care. The Government has been criticised for being vague in its guidance on what happens next, but we are dealing with a range of unknowns so it’s impossible to be certain of anything.

Businesses are being encouraged to return to work if staff can’t do so from home, taking the first baby steps to normality. That process will pose different challenges for each company as they consider how to apply the rules of social distancing and ensure staff and customers are safe. No two premises will be exactly the same, so it’s not as though there will be a standard template to follow.

It's also likely that businesses will change the way they operate in the future. For example, some element of home working is likely to become a permanent feature for some businesses and the use of video technology may reduce the need to travel for a proportion of meetings. Those two elements might have longer term impacts on things like the amount of office space businesses need. It could also drive a need for more homes to be equipped with work spaces so that people can avoid the need to use the kitchen table for their laptop.

Many of our members already work from small units and partially from home. So it’s quite possible that the way the rural economy is already working will become more the norm and we could see an increase in the number of companies based in the Chew Valley.

Those businesses that are still unable to re-open and are relying on the Furlough system will be happy to hear that the scheme is being extended until the end of October and it will be applied more flexibly from August. That is good news because it will give firms the chance to partially get back to work, gradually getting the wheels of the economy turning.

The Chamber of Commerce has continued to supply members with information and signpost them to the places where they can get help. But as a community we can do our bit by using local businesses when possible. It will help them and also keep people safer by reducing the need to travel more widely.

The over riding priority is to keep the rate of infection declining because it we suffered a second spike than we would go down into a new lockdown which would be disastrous for the economy. The fact is we need to put up with the relatively short-term pain in order to benefit from the longer term gain.


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