Lives v Livelihoods – the stark Coronavirus truth

By Ian Mean, Business West Gloucestershire Director
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With Boris Johnson now back in Downing Street we must now start the deadly serious business debate: Lives v Livelihoods.

Lives, and the protection of life, must always be the winner of course, and this was made very clear from Boris as he returned to face the biggest challenge of his political career.

But now is the time for government to give some real clarity to business on how it intends to steer HMS Economy through the turbulent waters of the lockdown.

Business simply can’t keep hanging on.

It is not being unfeeling or mercenary to insist that the  government needs to start to give all sorts of businesses a rough route map back to a real working world to give some hope to rescuing our economy.

That initial route map must, of course, have the protection of life and the NHS as the overriding direction in which we need to travel.

It was obvious to me seeing Boris Johnson make that speech on the steps of Downing Street that here was a prime minister whose near death experience at the hands of the coronavirus had left him thinking very hard about easing the lockdown.

He asked business, particularly, not to be too impatient but he understood their anxiety.

Boris is right. The economy will be beyond repair if a second spike of the virus was allowed to erupt through too much of a relaxation of the lockdown guidelines, particular on social distancing.

Over the weekend, we have seen major housebuilders talking about starting up on sites again in May. There must obviously be strict regulations on distancing for these workers-both on those sites and how they travel to them.

It was one of Gloucestershire’s own MPs – Tory grandee Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, who last week broke cover to urge his government to start working on an economic exit plan.

Since then, fellow senior MPs have also backed Sir Geoffrey, who represents the Cotswolds.

Sir Geoffrey is to be congratulated for his stance. This was a very difficult call but the right one.

Readers of  Business & Innovation online will have seen Business West’s survey of more than 1100 in the South West highlighting the unparalleled scale of the economic impact being faced by companies grappling with the coronavirus pandemic.

Over 200 Gloucestershire businesses contributed to the survey(conducted between April 2-17) which concluded that only

16% of businesses believe they will be able to cope if coronavirus lasts for six months.

I regularly talk to business in Gloucestershire and several of them last week told me they had about three months cash left.

My personal view is that the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, must quickly ramp up his key cash rescue packages for business.

Banks too have got to quickly step up to the plate to get emergency loans out of the door.

Lives are so very important but so are our livelihoods. The challenge is immense.