Business leadership through COVID-19 – stabilise, recover and grow.

07 April 2020
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Never has a local focus been more prevalent than in this time of incredible challenge that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to every single one of us. David. A. Kerfoot MBE DL, Chair of the York & North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership breaks down the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic into three stages – stabilisation, recovery and growth. 

The LEP have always championed partnership and connections at a local level, knowing that they build up a picture that benefits the region and country as a whole. I urge every single person to support their local community at this time. Yorkshire people are strong, resilient and purposeful in reacting to difficult situations. We will win through.

At the root of the fighting spirit of Yorkshire folk, is a resilient pragmatism. An acceptance that by breaking down the problem, tackling the here and now, with a strong sense of what comes next, piece by piece, day by day, we get there. 

We can break down the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic into three stages – stabilisation, recovery and growth. Now that our new reality has set in, stabilisation has begun. Government have rolled out an extensive business support programme. It’s fair to say, there are many gaps to fill and the stabilisation phase will take many months. We need a clear focus on shoring up supply chains, our labour force and a stretch into new territories with technology.

For businesses to survive, we need a consolidated and equalised approach from the banking sector, with a clear and collaborative flow of information and support to businesses. As Chairs of the four Yorkshire LEPS, my colleagues and I are coming together to engage and collaborate with banking leaders, to match support to the needs of businesses, locally.

It’s too early to say when the economy will start to recover, but now is the time to start planning. Recovery must be locally led and I know that all four Yorkshire LEPS are now seeking to establish priorities for localised economic stimulus, after the pandemic comes to an end.Our Local Industrial Strategies can sit as the backbone to our economic recovery planning.

Government investment into local areas will require a consolidated, strategic approach between departments. At present there are signs of silo working between some government departments. LEPs have a key role and considerable strengths to generate a systems thinking approach to the local economy, understanding the interdepend ability that drives growth. Our knowledge of the business community and strong partnership networks give us advantage in driving economic recovery. We need the capacity to invest locally to stimulate growth. Devolution has never been a more relevant ambition for York and North Yorkshire. From my perspective we need it even more now.

The current picture in our region is mixed. Whilst some businesses thrive due to unprecedented demand, many are challenged more than they have ever been. We have proudly prospered as an economy of SMEs, which has bought us resilience to manage previous economic shocks. This time, many won’t make it. It’s a difficult, and heart-breaking truth.

Yet, I also recognise, even in these early days of crisis, that there are considerable opportunities to uncover. An undeniable cultural shift has been evoked. Whilst physical distancing, social and cultural barriers between people are coming down. With large swathes of our workforce working from home and juggling their professional lives with home-schooling, professionals are revealling more of their personal worlds to one another. I have also heard people talking about mental health and well-being, in ways that are new and more comfortable than they may have been previously.

My hope is that by bringing our personal and professional worlds closer together, a permanent evolution in the perceptions of potential in our workforce will occur. Building flexibility into job roles that have previously been unavailable to working mothers for example, may open up opportunities for inclusion that have not previously existed.

Significantly, our economy will need to seek a reappraisal of how we value a business. Whilst profitability will always be crucial in our economy, resilience and long-term planning will become indicative of a sustainable, profitable business.

The 2008 crash didn’t see much change in how SMEs do business. This time will be different. The pandemic has shaken down every truth we have known in business and presented us with new ones.  EVERY business, no matter their size, if they make it through this, will need to look differently at growth.

Though I am an eternal optimist, I must sound a note of caution. Moving from recovery to growth, our leadership will be as crucial as it is now. Growth, when it comes around again, mustn’t be growth at all cost.  We will need to empower growth for the long term, for everyone, taking heed of what lies beyond the horizon and be ready for whatever comes our way. I am ready to do my bit and I hope you are too for the good of all.

David. A. Kerfoot MBE DL, Chair of the York & North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership.

Originally written for and published in the Yorkshire Post.

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