The Big Conversation: Helping Britain Recover - London event
On October 2, Lloyds Bank hosted a virtual event to discuss the challenges and opportunities for firms in the capital as they deal with the economic impacts of the coronavirus.
- Christine Adeosun, Founder, Ekofood, which supplies African cuisine and ingredients to the European hospitality sector
- Naveen Bhandari, Managing Director, Airivo Group, a serviced office business with premises in London and Birmingham
- Eddie Curzon, Regional Director London & South, CBI
- Paul Gordon, Managing Director SME & Mid Corporates, Lloyds Bank.
Hosted by broadcast journalist Declan Curry
- The current business environment
- Rising to the coronavirus challenge
- Targeting growth opportunities in a low growth economic environment
- Improving efficiencies and increasing productivity
- Growing customer base in the UK and internationally
The London economy generates almost a quarter of the UK’s economic output and is a world leader in sectors ranging from the arts to financial services. However, more firms in London have lost more than 50% of their revenues during the pandemic than in any other UK region.
London is a diverse economy. On the one hand the capital is the UK region with the biggest take-up of the government’s furlough scheme, reflecting its huge reliance on workers in industries like hospitality and leisure. Yet it has also seen more employees switch to home-working than any other region, underlining its large number of white-collar jobs, many of them in well-paid sectors like finance and professional services.
Ekofood founder Christine Adeosun said her main challenge had been sourcing raw materials, including ingredients for her African cuisine. It had seen an upturn in demand for its ready meals but had struggled to fulfil orders because of supply chain issues.
The CBI said the picture had been very mixed. Sectors like events and aviation were still being severely affected, with a knock-on impact on professional services. However, sectors including life sciences, tech and parts of manufacturing were still going strong.
Businesses in central London – particularly retail and hospitality – were suffering from a lack of footfall as commuters worked from home, though this had benefitted local high streets, creating stronger micro-economies around the capital.
The panel agreed that this was likely to be an enduring outcome of the pandemic.
For Eko Foods, supply chain issues had made it difficult to continue sourcing specialised ingredients for its African cuisine from overseas, forcing it to reformulate some of its recipes.
Airivo Group, which has offices in locations including Brentford, Chiswick and Richmond, reported that coronavirus had driven some economic activity to the suburbs. Managing Director Naveen said people who are working from home are also using flexible office space more local to their homes when they need to meet and collaborate with colleagues or customers, rather than travelling into city centre offices.
And the panel agreed that a greater focus on opportunities around operating more sustainably had returned after falling away following the last financial crisis. Retrofitting buildings with sustainable technologies presented a good opportunity for firms to make quick environmental gains and would be a focus for support from government and the Greater London Authority.
Poll 1: What would help business recovery most in London?
Grants to retain existing/ take on new employees - 36%
Improved digital connectivity - 23%
Creation of regional growth funds - 18%
Tax breaks - 14%
A stronger network among the local business community - 9%
More local (i.e. devolved) decision making by public bodies - 0%
Firms are making difficult decisions about headcounts, but it was very hard to plan as future demand remains uncertain.
Airivo have worked to improve connectivity at its offices, boosting internet speeds from 1GB to 10GB, so tenants can work more productively with partners in other locations.
In the future a blended approach to work will be more common, with people working from home as well as more flexible office spaces when needed, which would help to cut commuting time and improve their work/life balance. “The more flexible businesses can be, the better they will be able to attract the best talent.” Eddie Curzon, Regional Director London & South, CBI.
Ekofoods had been hit by the cancelation of trade shows and so instead turned to social media to market its products. They collaborated with UK producers to source more homegrown supplies, cutting food miles and making products greener, broadening their appeal further.
Airivo focus was on targeting growing business sectors to find new customers, including media, logistics and IT support firms and the CBI was expecting the government to ramp up support for exporters in the wake of Brexit.
“We’ve seen firms investing in e-commerce, making sure they have the digital skills and agility to move quickly and exploit opportunities whenever and wherever they arise.” Eddie Curzon, Regional Director London & South, CBI.
Poll 2: Which of the following would you say is most relevant of your business?
We’re more innovative than we were six months ago- 59%*
We’re more resilient than we were six months ago - 12%*
Our workforce is more productive than six months ago - 12%*
We have more positive cash flow than six months ago - 12%*
None of the above - 6%*
*note these numbers are rounded
The panel were encouraged by the poll, which saw the biggest boost to innovation of any UK region.
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