The Covid-19 pandemic has affected UK business and society as a whole on an unprecedented scale, with firms forced to adapt quickly to the challenges of the pandemic while the government introduced numerous measures to safeguard businesses and employment which have taken their toll on the public purse. James Adams, director at Chiltern Marble Group, discussed how his company had to pivot in order to respond to the crisis, while chancellor Rishi Sunak responded to the latest borrowing figures forced by the pandemic.
Speaking to the Leaders Council of Great Britain & Northern Ireland earlier in the year, Adams said: “The Covid-19 situation is unprecedented, and we had to be as flexible as we possibly could and make sure we were prepared. Part of that was keeping the communication channels wide open and ensuring that our people were in the right frame of mind.
“To adapt, we had to be clear with everyone that they knew what was happening, which involved communicating and all pulling together in the same direction. We kept everybody up to date with briefings, email updates and through other means to ensure people knew how we would be responding as a business to the pandemic.”
For Adams, the challenge was not simply a case of weathering the storm, but making sure that all associated with the company was in a positive mindset and prepared to maximise the firm’s potential when the easing of lockdown restrictions allowed for normal service to resume.
“It wasn’t about weathering the storm but maintaining a good mindset and that we are prepared for the recovery. We said from the beginning that we will come out of this and it was about being ready and maximising our potential.”
In Adams’ view, adaptability and flexibility were key elements required of the business but were also qualities that had to be demonstrated by leaders of businesses too.
“In our role as business leaders, what is key in my view is knowing when to apply different modes of leadership for different situations, for example when to be collaborative and when to be more authoritative and have to take decisions yourself such as during a crisis like this. When you know the approach you have to take, then being able to pivot is crucial.”
The approach taken by firms of ensuring that they are ready to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic ready to seize opportunities in preparation for the economic recovery has been a hallmark of how British industry has charted a course through the crisis thus far, yet any hopes of a swift recovery have been subdued after news of a modest economic bounce-back in the month of May.
The latest crop of figures from the Office for National Statistics which emerged this week have also indicated that the UK government borrowed a record £127.9 billion between April and June to finance measures aimed at mitigating the impact of Covid-19, such as the furlough scheme, small business loans and frontline investment.
The figure was over double the £55.4 billion that was borrowed in the entire 2019/20 tax year. £35.5 billion alone was borrowed in June, the third highest monthly figure since records began in 1993. Total government debt is now up to a record £1.98 trillion.
According to the ONS, debt at the end of June as a percentage of the UK’s economic output was 99.6 per cent, the highest debt to GDP ratio seen since March 1961.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has said that the figures show the scale of the task at hand in getting public finances back onto a sustainable footing, but remains insistent that borrowing on such a large scale to fund coronavirus mitigation measures was the right thing to do.
Sunak said: "It's clear that coronavirus has had a significant impact on our public finances, but we know without our response things would have been far worse.
"The best approach to ensure our public finances are sustainable in the medium-term is to minimise the economic scarring caused by the pandemic.
"I am also clear that, over the medium-term, we must, and we will, put our public finances back on a sustainable footing."