Antiques on High owner foresaw likelihood of second lockdown, government scraps rail franchising

Published by Scott Challinor on September 21st 2020, 3:03pm

Monday’s headlines have been dominated by looming new Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, as the chief medical officer and chief scientific adviser appeared at a televised briefing from Downing Street to warn the nation that it had reached a critical juncture in fighting the pandemic, with cases and deaths likely to rise further without further measures being put in place.

Prime minister Boris Johnson will make a separate address on Tuesday to outline what the new measures could look like and is widely believed to be considering a second lockdown, but one business leader was ahead of the curve and predicted that another lockdown could be in the pipeline before the news emerged, based on the behaviours he witnessed daily.

Leadership in Focus

Speaking on the Leaders Council podcast, Vincent Page, the owner and managing director of Antiques on High Ltd and Antiques on High Sidmouth Ltd, addressed how his business had handled the news of the initial lockdown and pivoted to deal with the impact of the pandemic, before explaining why he envisioned a future return to more stringent measures to control the spread of the virus.

Page said: “We were very aware of Covid-19 back in February and March and had various people in our Oxford and Sidmouth stores who were concerned about the situation, so we shut both stores at 14:00 GMT on March 17, due to those general concerns. From my perspective, it was obvious there would be a lockdown, so I didn’t want to put anyone at risk for a few days’ takings for the business. I believe that the government called a general lockdown six days later and we did not reopen both stores until June 15 under the Covid secure guidelines.”

Speaking earlier in September, Page said that he could envision stringent Covid secure measures remaining in place for a lengthy period of time, and that individuals refusing to comply with guidelines would have a hand to play in making that happen.

“I do see stringent measures remaining for some time”, Page said. “We have hand sanitiser stations at the door of our stores and ask customers to use it, and we take their temperature in a non-contact way when they enter via use of temperature guns. Sometimes, rebellious people come in who do not want to comply, in which case we ask them to leave. These measures make it safe for them to handle some of the pieces we have on display at our antiques stores, which is part of the experience of coming in, so at least we are able to preserve that.

“We have followed the guidelines that government have issued but modified them ourselves to a degree to extend to taking people’s temperatures. We’ve changed the way we operate, because unfortunately the antiques industry is one where people consider cash as a viable option and we take cash but we now have a copper tray to take cash, because copper surfaces can kill the virus within an hour. So, we put cash onto the copper tray, spray it with disinfectant and leave it for a period of time for any viruses to die off before the money then goes into the till. We have to take these measures to protect more mature generations of people who often work in industries like ours.

“We also limit capacity in each of our stores and have a bollard in place at the front of our shops to indicate when we are at capacity. I can see this going on for a long time, perhaps until the middle of next year unless a vaccine becomes available. What is very clear to see in the day to day, however, is that a lot of people tend to forget the virus came upon us at the beginning of the year and the government had more information about it than the public, and the public has been quick to criticise and pass judgement, sometimes choosing to flout the guidelines thinking that they know better. At the end of the day, this is new for all of us.”

Calling on the public to adhere to the guidelines, Page added: “When guidelines are issued, I would urge people to follow them. It is no great hardship. People were wearing masks in the days of the Spanish Flu in the early 20th Century and there was a second spike of that disease, so it would come as no surprise to me if there is a second lockdown this year. Walking around town, people seem to have forgotten that this virus is still out there. We see a lot of people coming into the shops and then we have to remind them to wear their masks, even if they have them on their person.”

Leadership Today

While the reaction to Monday morning's press conference remains in the news spotlight, the government has announced that rail franchising has been axed and announced plans to extend support for train firms by 18 months.

Taxpayer money has been invested into supplementing train firms after passenger numbers fell over lockdown when more people began working from home.

So far, that investment of public funds has exceeded £3.5 billion and the Department for Transport still believes that “significant” support for rail will be required. Passenger numbers have increased since lockdown restrictions began to ease, but they remain under half of pre-pandemic levels.

The BBC reports that ministers will hope to use the next 18 months to carry out wider reforms to UK railways, including the possibility of adopting a concessions-based system in the long term which will see train companies paid a fixed fee to operate services.

Rail franchises have been in operation since the 1990s, but this marks the end of that era as transport secretary Grant Shapps said that the pandemic proved the system no longer works.

He said: "The model of privatisation adopted 25 years ago has seen significant rises in passenger numbers, but this pandemic has proven that it is no longer working."

Shapps added that the move toward a new system will end “uncertainty and confusion about whether you are using the right ticket or the right train company”.

UK train companies have responded warmly to the plans.

Leadership in History

September 21 is a key date in the leadership history of several nations. On this day in 1964, Malta gained independence from the United Kingdom, but opted to remain in the Commonwealth. Fast-forwarding to September 21, 1981, Belize followed suit in gaining independence from the UK.

In 1991, Armenia gained its independence from the Soviet Union. On the same date just two years later, Boris Yeltsin, the president of the newly established Russian Federation, triggered a constitutional crisis by suspending parliament and attempting to dissolve the nation’s legislature, the Congress of People's Deputies and its Supreme Soviet.

The standoff would last for one week and six days and was eventually resolved by military intervention and a victory for pro-Yeltsin forces, culminating in the end of the Soviet system of government in Russia with the dissolving of the legislature.

Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

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The Leaders Council of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a network of the most influential figures from across the country. Through detailed case studies, news coverage, podcasts and leadership events, we strive to unearth the authentic voice of British industry. Find out more About us and our Membership Benefits.

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Authored By

Scott Challinor
Business Editor
September 21st 2020, 3:03pm

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