British Chambers of Commerce President, Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith, has written an open letter to the Prime Minister setting out principles for a phased restart of the UK economy.
Dear Prime Minister,
The coronavirus pandemic has been a seismic shock to the UK and global economy. It is an unprecedented situation in both scale and impact. What we now understand is that we will not be going back to “business as usual” any time soon. First, we will have to learn to live and work in a ‘new normal’ as restrictions ease but the threat of the virus remains. While it may take more time than initially imagined to fully re-open our society and economy, we must meet this challenge with ingenuity and resilience.
In my short time as President of the British Chambers of Commerce, I have been struck by the imaginative and selfless way that Chamber businesses have come together with the public and third sectors to support their communities, the NHS and each other. From switching production from beer to hand sanitiser, to sourcing and donating personal protective equipment (PPE) to local NHS Trusts, businesses have gone out of their way to contribute to the national effort to combat this virus.
Equally impressive have been the staff and volunteer directors of our Chambers of Commerce across the UK. As the ‘first responders’ of the business world, they have been working relentlessly to support businesses of all sizes and sectors within their communities and providing invaluable advice to local government and others.
In the coming days, your Government will begin to share plans to ease restrictions and move the UK out of the initial lockdown phase. The fight against the virus must remain the top priority, but the planning and communication of a carefully phased approach to lifting lockdown must begin immediately if we are to harness the public health and economic benefits, both now and in the future.
We appreciate that the Government has acted quickly to provide support to businesses through these difficult times. Beginning with the Chancellor’s budget in March, Her Majesty’s Government has acted at speed and scale to deliver cash to firms on the ground through loans, grants and the Job Retention Scheme. Government must ensure these schemes continue to evolve to support a phased restart of the economy, enabling businesses to survive through this crisis and thrive in the future. In addition, steps taken during the crisis that have helpfully simplified regulation, bureaucracy and procurement processes should be maintained.
This is a time to be bold. Government should not shy away from sustaining high levels of public spending in order to restart and renew our communities and the economy in the short and medium-term, while not tying the hands of future generations. An expansionary fiscal policy, including a commitment to transformative infrastructure investment, will be needed in order to generate the returns that will help to pay down the national debt in the longer-term.
We see the journey ahead as having three phases:
- Restart: a phased reopening of the economy
- Rebuild: building resilience for firms and households
- Renew: returning to prosperity and growth
The ideas we will present draw on the experience of Chamber business communities throughout the UK and around the world – including those in countries that are easing their lockdowns and have supported members through other, major natural disasters.
We plan to share some principles for each of these three phases over the coming weeks, beginning today with “Restart”. We commit to working with you and your colleagues across Government on exploring these phases in detail as we plan our path forward. We owe nothing less to our businesses, and the communities and people they support, who have been battered by this storm.
Fundamental prerequisites to beginning this journey include mass testing and contact tracing; clear decisions and guidance on what PPE is needed in workplaces; and proactive steps to ensure adequate supply of PPE to both the health service and to businesses where necessary.
And it is essential that the leaders across the United Kingdom come together with a coordinated approach – including consistent guidance across all regions and nations – and pay close attention to the interdependencies between private and public sector, and within supply chains. For example, economic impact must be a consideration when deciding how to phase the reopening of schools.
The UK is an open economy. Global perceptions of our restart strategy – and our ability to reopen transport and trade links – are critical. Our strategy must be clearly communicated to international partners and give them confidence to resume cross-border travel and commerce.
These are challenging times, but Chamber businesses stand ready to work with your government – and support our communities – through the journey ahead.
Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith CBE