Tees Talk: business reaction to the latest government advice

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We asked Tees Valley business leaders if this week’s government announcements had made things more or less clear for their business and what were their main challenges towards getting back to a level of business normality.

Paul Davison, commercial director, Erimus Insurance Brokers

“We have a diverse portfolio of clients operating in just about every sector. Some businesses have literally closed the doors and have no income, many are running at reduced capacity and one or two are actually doing well. While we are very fortunate that we continue to operate a business-as-usual approach remotely, many of our clients have been waiting for the green light to start the process of returning to work.

“The PM’s announcement has reaffirmed that we will not return to the office this month as we can effectively run the business remotely and we accept that we must play our part in allowing others to return to their places of work before we do – to ensure that realistic social distancing is achievable on public transport, shops and the like.

“Our main challenges are supporting our staff and clients through a difficult period and planning for how and when we will return safely to our office environment. Our priority currently is providing return-to-work guidance to our clients who are faced with a critical need to return to work as quickly as possible but must ensure that they put measures in place to manage people and operations post-shutdown.”

Yasmin Khan, director, Halo Project

“This week, like so many other charities providing frontline services to vulnerable communities, we are faced with uncertainty of how best to ease restrictions to ensure our staff are safe in their workplace.

“We have sourced PPE and provided core services to ensure our clients receive the support they need. However, at a time when uncertainty is the new norm, a clear message from the government outlining how employers can realistically meet the challenge of a back-to-work situation within a sensible timeline would have been much more helpful.

“Thankfully, our board of trustees and management have worked with our employees to consider the best approach required within the coming weeks and months and we now have a critical pathway to work with. Only by considering the evidence and individual business need in consultation will we be ready for business as usual.”

Mike Racz, owner, Racz Group

“When you hear the prime minister’s speech for the first time it’s very Churchillian and gives you a sense of reassurance. However, when you try to understand what it means for health clubs, for instance – which the Racz Group owns under the Anytime Fitness brand – you are totally lost.

“Picking an example like house builders is all good and well but the small print matters massively and now we are trying to sniff through hundreds of pages of documents to actually put guidance into practice. It does seem to me that a lot of it is open for interpretation and it’s simply not clear enough.

“You should go to work if you can’t work from home, here is your 12-hour notice. On the other hand. I won’t allow your workplace to be open so actually you can’t go to work. Right, you should go to work but you don’t have to if you don’t want to and we can fine your employer if the workplace is deemed to be unsafe but I’m not going to publish those documents for a few more days. So let’s get to work. Or not. Wait…what?”

James Griffiths, managing director, Industrial Marine Hydraulics (IMH)

“The announcement around construction and manufacturing companies returning to work doesn’t change a great deal for us. We’ve continued to operate throughout these challenging times as we provide essential hydraulic engineering, maintenance and service solutions to key sectors such as transport, power and food processing, as well as key suppliers in the NHS supply chain.

“However, further clarity is required in order to give the confidence needed for more businesses to safely return to work. What is a significant challenge – and will continue to be a barrier to returning to business normality – is our ability to travel outside the region to undertake projects, as hotels remain closed.”

Harriet Spalding, marketing manager, Mandale Homes

“The PM’s announcement has made a significant difference to us. It was never the intention of government to close construction sites. Due to a delay in publishing guidance that followed the initial lockdown announcement, many of our suppliers and those that work within the industry took the decision to close.

“Whilst supply chains have started to ease over the past couple of weeks, the release of the updated government guidance relating to the housing market has given it a much needed confidence boost. Of course, many of our buyers are in chains, so the news that the second hand market could also re-start has was very welcome. It has also raised public awareness surrounding the guidance for construction sites which has helped our communication with customers and neighbours dramatically.

“It goes without saying that due to social distancing measures required on site, and the inevitable economic effect Covid-19 has had, we do not expect production levels to be where they were before the crisis for a while yet.”

Peter Turner, managing director, Cocoon & Bauer Interior Design

“I think the prime minister has made it clearer as we can now see the light at the end of the tunnel. Unfortunately, what we won’t know is whether, with the economy slowing down so much, we go into a recession. Hopefully, that isn’t so.

“Our biggest challenge will be helping companies and their employees back to the office environment and helping them implement distancing measures without compromising on design. A large portion of our work comes from office design and the changes required may have a long-lasting effect on the way we create spaces in the future.”

Andrew Rowe, partner, Baldwins Accountants

“It was a bit of a damned if you do, damned if you don’t moment really, where nobody on either side of the lockdown was likely to be happy – too slow for some and reckless for others. The message of ‘Work from home if you can, if not, go to work if it is safe’ was very clear.

“Our biggest challenge is getting people to understand that most of the population have nothing much to fear if they are of a certain age and of reasonable health. Employers will have to amend their working environment to try to assuage any fears or concerns.”