The Big Conversation: Helping Britain Recover - Yorkshire and the Humber event

Added:  05/10/2020


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For the Yorkshire and the Humber edition of our Big Conversation initiative, a diverse collection of business leaders shared their views on the challenges and opportunities currently facing the region.


  • Beckie Hart, Regional Director for Yorkshire and the Humber, CBI
  • Jane Marren, Group Managing Director of The Company Shop, the UK’s largest business dedicated to redistributing surplus food and household products
  • Saleem Akhtar, Managing Director of Jinnah Group, which operates a chain of fine-dining restaurants across the north of England
  • Gareth Oakley, Managing Director, Business Banking, Lloyds Bank

Hosted by broadcast journalist Declan Curry

Key insights:

  1. The current business environment
  2. Like all regions, COVID-19 has created challenging conditions for businesses in Yorkshire and the Humber. Fortunately, unemployment has been relatively stable throughout the crisis, although about 30% of the region’s workforce were furloughed.

    However, the latest Lloyds Business Barometer research for September 2020 shows that 13% of business had seen an increase in demand month-on-month and overall confidence has risen five points during the same period. Moreover, 71% of Yorkshire and the Humber businesses said they could, in theory, operate at full capacity while remaining COVID-secure, the highest figure of any UK region.

  3. Rising to the coronavirus challenge
  4. Beckie Hart of the CBI said that the organisation has seen businesses across the region responding in a wide range of ways, some of them highly innovative.

    Although the pandemic usually meant an immediate shutdown, some businesses have been able to repurpose what they do, for example a clothing company adapting to make surgical gowns and a manufacturer of police riot shields shifting to making Perspex shields to allow other businesses to create COVID-safe workplaces.

    The Company Shop operates a network of 16 stores across the UK that stock surplus food and household goods. In response to the COVID crisis, the business switched its emphasis towards offering in-home care parcels. The team worked with local authorities and community agencies to ensure these were distributed to those that needed them most.

  5. Targeting growth opportunities in a low growth economic environment
  6. Jinnah Group’s restaurants had to close for 16 weeks at the height of the crisis, but the Eat Out to Help Out scheme had helped throughout August, with staff adapting quickly.

    The business is now focusing on learning to live with the pandemic and adapting its ways of working to allow it to continue to serve customers in a safe way and in accordance with changing government guidance.

    “Businesses have been diversifying in terms of the products and services they offer, which has been hugely impressive and gives an encouraging sign of the capacity of Yorkshire and the Humber businesses to adapt in order to target the growth opportunities that do exist.” Gareth Oakley, Managing Director, Business Banking at Lloyds Bank.

    Poll 1: What would help business recovery most in Yorkshire & the Humber?

    Tax breaks - 58%

    Creation of regional growth funds - 17%

    Grants to retain existing/ take on new employees - 8%

    More local (i.e. devolved) decision making by public bodies - 8%

    Improved digital - 6%

    A stronger network among the local business community - 3%

    Remarking on the results of the poll, the CBI’s Beckie Hart said: “In light of the message around tax, we need to ensure there are good communication channels between businesses and the Treasury so we can work out what effective tax-breaks would look like.”

  7. Growing your customer base in the UK and internationally
  8. The great potential for international growth was highlighted as the region has the UK’s largest international shipping port by volume, but that just five per cent of the nation’s exports come from Yorkshire and the Humber.

    Targeting international growth can allow business to de-risk, become more competitive and more profitable, and that, for any company looking to boost exports, the key is to share expertise with other companies to understand the nuts and bolts of exporting and what products and services sell well in specific markets. There are lots of opportunities to do this through virtual trade missions and using export finance funds to explore the possibilities.

    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 - 60%*

    We’re more resilient than we were six months ago - 27%*

    Our workforce is more productive than six months ago - 7%*

    We have more positive cash flow than six months ago - 7%*

    None of the above - 0%*

    *note these numbers are rounded

  9. Making efficiencies and increasing productivity
  10. Gareth Oakley said that he had seen businesses changing their operating models, looking towards automation, digitalisation and thinking differently about how they communicate with their customers, and also about distribution channels in order to target more efficient and productive ways of working.

    But businesses are looking for productivity gains in more traditional ways too. Saleem Akhtar said: “For us, really increasing productivity means getting more people into our restaurants, and we do that by always innovating our menus and making our offer as attractive as possible.”

    Jane Marren of The Company Shop said: “Our business is limited in scope for automation and tech solutions, so the key is getting the best out of our people. That means both taking care of the amazing teams we already have and also making sure we’re always on the lookout to bring in people with the skills to take our business forward.”

Attendee question:

  • When the government talks about ‘levelling up’ the economy, what steps should they take?

Beckie said: “We think the key for this is putting more power in the hands of regional leaders, and we’ve seen some encouraging developments in recent months.

“The Sheffield City Region deal is a good example, providing a £30 million annual fund for the mayor to deploy, as well as increased powers in certain areas like skills and transport. We want to see more of this – decisions that impact local communities should be made by leaders that are in charge of those communities.”


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Related links

Support for your business

Find out what additional financial support is available for businesses impacted by coronavirus.

Coronavirus guides

Find information and guidance from getting back to work safely to an overview of the available government support.

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Support, guidance and financial options to help you build financial resilience and manage the impact of rising costs and economic factors on doing business.

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