It is a remarkable fact that crises force adaptation. Just last week I took part in my first Zoom conference call with the Torbay Together Group. On my screen were 30 heads, all local leaders, from councillors to college principals, businesses tsars and health experts from across the Bay. This group’s ready acceptance and willingness to embrace new measures and technology only highlights people’s resourcefulness, creativity and ability to adapt.
There is no doubt that we will succeed in overcoming this virus and that life will return. But it will not be a return to normal. Too much has happened in too short a time for that to be possible.
Our businesses, our local and national economy have over the last few weeks undergone an economic earthquake that no expert or commentator might ever have predicted. Yet the reaction from businesses across Torbay and South Devon has been a remarkable feat of agility. Pubs have reopened as village stores and helped supply their local communities including the vulnerable and elderly, restaurants have become takeaways, supermarkets have hired high levels of staff and created new shopping protocols, fishermen have set up delivery networks, farmers are creating local supply chain networks. The list goes on and on and is not unique to the South West. All across the country businesses are diversifying, illustrating remarkable adaptability under these challenging times.
This resilience was borne of necessity but its presence is also precisely what will ensure that the embers of our economy are not dimmed or snuffed out, but ready to stoke the flames of revival when the time comes.
Implementing resilience is easier said than done and many businesses have been forced to close by government decree and have little alternative. First, we must look to our local supply chains. We have been long dependent on large, complex, international supply chain networks which have contributed to our prosperity. Yet these are now buckling as country after country closes its borders or enforces lock downs. Efficiency through trade is important, but we need a resilient kind of efficiency.
Thankfully our local supply of fish, farmed food is abundant. Our ability to create and innovate domestically are readily apparent from our brewers to our tanners and glass makers and many other firms. We should concentrate on our immediate surroundings and utilise our localised markets.
Second, now is the time to explore business resilience and job retention funds. Other countries have created them. Germany has built a €26bn rainy day fund to help businesses and to retain jobs. We should be unashamed of replicating other countries successful systems and structures—it is how we become stronger.
Third, supporting research and development should become a national priority. Allowing us to create, explore and innovate and to remind ourselves that the ‘Best of British’ slogan was created from the ‘Made in Britain’ hallmark.
Fourth, as this crisis has shown we are capable of great flexibility at all levels of society. We should seek to ingrain this in our future existence.
Much of this is easy to say and will be hard to put in practice. But it can be done, and it has been by many businesses across the Bay. Ingraining resilience into our national infrastructure should be a priority. If we can learn the lessons of today for tomorrow, then we will have begun a new and sustainable project of levelling up across the country.