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Missed the live broadcast? The write-up gives you the chance to catch up in just 4 minutes. Hear from business, economic and industry specialists about the immediate and long term impact of the pandemic.

As we move through the recovery phase after the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak, British businesses are working hard to adjust to the new environment.

With huge uncertainty around the UK's future lockdown state and recession appearing almost inevitable, the longer-term impact on the economy and consumer behaviour remains of great concern.

With that in mind, this episode of the Lloyds Bank live series focused on practical guidance to support businesses through the immediate and more enduring effects of the pandemic.

Hosted by broadcast journalist Bridgid Nzekwu, the panel of speakers featured:

Tony Danker, currently CEO of Be the Business, the business-led movement to transform the UK's productivity. Tony takes up a new role as Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry later this year.

Mark Griffin CEO, Innovation & Technology in Transport Hub, a new, industry-led event for fleet operators and policy makers, showcasing the best in transport innovation.

Jeavon Lolay, Head of Economics and Strategy at Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, with more than 20 years’ experience specialising in worldwide macroeconomic developments and financial markets.

The panel first heard Jeavon’s insights into COVID-19’s impact on the economy so far, and whether hopes of a robust macroeconomic recovery were well-founded.

The road to recovery

Jeavon highlighted two key variables that would dictate the pace of recovery.

He said: “In the near term, a lot of the focus is on demand.

“The willingness of consumers to spend is key to giving businesses the confidence to think about expansion - or at least restarting.

“The second major thing is the labour market, which is very reliant on government support at the moment.

“Going forward, unemployment, and the fear of unemployment, will have a significant impact on consumer confidence and demand.”

The conversation then turned to the practical challenges of restarting businesses as restrictions on activity are lifted.

A poll of broadcast viewers asked how long they expected it would take before their business was fully operational again, in line with pre-COVID-19 levels.

While a fifth (20%) said they were already fully operational, twice as many (40%) said it would take until Q2 of 2021 and more than one in ten (12%) said they wouldn’t be up to full speed until 2022 or beyond.

Jeavon said that reflected the reality that, while some level of recovery was already in progress, a return to ‘normal’ levels of activity would take much longer.

No coming back

Indeed, the impact on some aspects of the economy would likely be permanent and some categories, channels and products would shrink or even die away.

Tony Danker said: “We can’t just hope that we automatically default to pre-COVID normality.

"Firms are going to need to grow just to stand still."

“Ask yourself, where is the growth in my business that’s going to make up for the lost time and revenue?”

And Mark Griffin added: “If you look at big British bus manufacturers, for example, if these businesses are not rebooted quickly and the government doesn’t support them with funding, they won’t recover.

“It’s easy to stop a business, but very, very difficult to restart one.

“It’s essential that we prevent these companies from going bust.

“Unless we invest now, it will take a lot longer to get businesses back to where they were.”

A strategy for restart

However, Tony said that British businesses had responded robustly to the challenges of lockdown, cramming three years’ worth of innovation into just three months.

And he highlighted three strategic priorities to help firms overcome uncertainty and boost productivity.

He said: “We see a drive towards three things:

Innovation. Consumer and employee patterns are probably going to shift fundamentally. If you’re not already responding to those trends, you need to start.

Technology. People are growing in their confidence and capability to use technology and it’s time to realise those gains.

Efficiency. The hardest thing about restart is that all the costs return, but we’re not sure revenues will too, because we don’t know where demand is. The focus on efficiency will remain until we’re back to normal patterns of demand.”

And Tony flagged two key mistakes that decision makers should avoid at this crucial time.

Engage and accelerate

He said: “Don’t think you have all the answers. Engage with your peers to learn how they are responding to lockdown.

“Everybody is doing this together, so don’t go it alone.

“Secondly, don’t slow down.

“We’re going to have a year or two of very fast and agile decision making in the face of the uncertainty.”

He added: “A lot of business trends people have talked about for years will accelerate.”

Mark said he believed that this focus on rapid progress could prove a shot in the arm for the transport and logistics sectors, which are working towards net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

He said: “If we are going to achieve that then companies have to invest, innovate and collaborate, whether you’re an SME or a PLC.”

He added: “Everybody wants a sustainable transport future. The only way we are going to get that is by working together.

“But that does need government support. We need to protect these industries before they slip away to make sure we have a cleaner, safer, more sustainable future.”

Leading from the front

But Tony stressed that the way British business leaders had responded to the pandemic had been impressive, displaying admirable leadership qualities at a time of crisis.

He said: “I’ve seen a surge in confidence among business leaders as a result of the pandemic.

“They’ve discovered strengths and skills they never knew they had.”

And Tony returned to the theme of agility for his final key message.

He said: “Cruising is not an option.”

Earlier episodes:

The full Business as Unusual broadcast is available now, as well as other episodes including; mental health, financing your business in challenging times, managing fraud risks, and much more.

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