12 Aug 2020
By Stuart Patrick, Chief Executive, Glasgow Chamber of Commerce.
Amidst the debate about the right speed at which governments can and should reopen the economy, there is surely one topic which should be uncontroversial.
We absolutely need the Test and Protect system to work if the progress we have made in getting back into business is to be maintained.
Government at both national and local levels have their roles to play and it is right that we frequently monitor how well the system is working. Businesses are having to implement safety measures at an unprecedented pace and expense while recognising the importance of supporting Test and Protect measures including the Scottish Government’s now mandatory customer data collection in the hospitality industry.
The overwhelming majority of businesses operate in a responsible manner but cost pressures and dampened demand are really testing the viability to continue to trade.
A successful Test and Protect system becomes even more crucial as each month goes by and the Job Retention Scheme (JRS) is wound down.
The consequences of a local lockdown after the JRS has gone are likely to be highly unpleasant.
Small businesses are financially stretched – the evidence for which is laid out in last month’s recapitalisation report from The City UK – so closing businesses in the consumption economy for any length of time would likely be the final straw for many.
We don’t yet know how local lockdowns affect consumer confidence in the impacted cities but it is hardly likely to be positive. The Chamber will continue to argue, through British Chambers of Commerce, that measures should be in place to support businesses financially if they are closed by extended local lockdowns. If the Treasury chooses not to respond then Test and Protect is our most important remaining line of defence.
As the Aberdeen example has shown, businesses can easily find themselves at the heart of a cluster with their names publicly broadcast. I would bet that the vast majority of businesses are taking their responsibilities seriously but that small minority which are not will be the weak link that affects us all. The Chamber is therefore actively supporting the message that implementing the protocols necessary for Test and Protect to work is essential business practice but that Government should provide support to do so. It is very helpful when the Scottish Government explicitly acknowledges that many of the businesses involved in a cluster have been doing what is asked so that the naming does not automatically mean shaming.
With local lockdowns also comes the increasing role of local government engaging with their business communities to make sure guidelines are being implemented and followed.
My own experience in Glasgow has been a positive one with a new City Council team coordinating the relationship with business across all council departments, with the ability to influence individual business operations in the city. The team is helping businesses that are making serious efforts to work with the guidelines but may not quite be getting it right. They are not there to deal with businesses that are casually flouting the rules.
There are, of course, no guarantees that even with every business doing exactly what is asked that a local lockdown can be avoided. Clusters emerge for reasons that are nothing to do with business just as Greater Manchester is showing.
But where businesses can help to minimise the risks of a local lockdown it is surely right that we do so. The vast majority of company leaders care about their customers and their staff. They know that looking after them well is the best route to profits. Never has that been truer than today.