As has been the case with many other businesses in the UK and the wider world, ESP Group has been dealt a significant blow by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. As the country’s leading smart card personalisation and bureau services whose work feeds directly into the public transport sector, the lockdown period has posed a significant challenge.
Yet, however difficult the situation has become over recent months, chief executive Theresa Slevin has been determined to focus on the positives and ensure that the business emerges from the crisis as a galvanised and stronger entity.
Leadership in Focus
In a one-to-one discussion with the Leaders Council’s Matthew O’Neill, Slevin revealed how ESP Group was forced to adapt in the early stages of the crisis to prioritise the safety of its workforce and its finances.
She said: “Just like with every other organisation in the country, Covid-19 has significantly affected our business, particularly since our work delivers directly into the public transport industry.
“Two weeks before lockdown was called, we initiated a home-working platform to allow 90 per cent of our workforce to work from home. Our priority was keeping them and their families safe, and we have carried that through to this point. Around 200 of our staff were furloughed between March and June, and in June we began bringing some people back, but I don’t envision that we will be back at full capacity for another 18 to 24 months.”
Although a pathway forward to returning to full capacity may not yet have presented itself, Slevin explained that having to operate at a reduced capacity had enabled the firm to streamline its processes, which came as just one of several positives that the group was keen to take away from the experience.
“Often news coming out of business is all doom and gloom during this time”, Slevin said. “But it has allowed us to find ways to become more efficient.
“We have been able to refine operating and people processes, and I believe we’ll come out of this a much stronger company.”
Slevin added that responsibility has fallen on the shoulders of business leaders during the pandemic to step-up to the plate and lead by example, in order to motivate others around them to put maximum effort into all that they do in spite of the ongoing uncertainty.
She said: “A leader must be a person that is prepared to do what they ask from others and lead by example, particularly during a crisis. They must try to inspire others, develop them, and invest in them to be the best they can be, and lead people forward. Organisations are collectives of human beings and leading them carries a weight of responsibility, and we have been reminded of the importance of that collective unit now more than ever.”
The proposed Internal Market Bill which will hand the UK government powers to override elements of the Withdrawal Agreement with the EU has cleared its first hurdle in the House of Commons, after MPs voted 340 votes to 263 in favour.
The bill has come under fierce criticism because it would act in breach of international law if ever invoked.
However, ministers have said that it acts as a fail-safe to protect the integrity of Northern Ireland and the wider UK if negotiations over a free trade deal with the EU fail and the bloc interprets the Northern Ireland Protocol in an “extreme and unreasonable” manner.
The legislation will allow goods and services to go unhindered across the four constituent countries of the UK when the nation leaves the EU single market and customs union after the transition period lapses on December 31.
Two Conservative MPs, Sir Roger Gale and Andrew Percy, voted against the legislation, while 30 more Tories abstained.
The government is braced for further rebellion from within the party, after a number of prominent Conservatives, including former chancellor Sajid Javid, have said that they cannot support the bill in its current form.
Home secretary Priti Patel has insisted that the bill applies the “safeguards and mechanisms” needed to “stay true to the people of Northern Ireland”.
Patel added that the bill does not act in breach of international law, explaining that “Parliament is sovereign when it comes to how international treaties are not only interpreted but applied through acts of Parliament."
Speaking during the debate on the bill in Parliament on Monday, prime minister Boris Johnson said that the EU’s current approach could culminate in excessive customs checks and possibly tariffs and goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, explaining that the new legislation would retain the “economic and political integrity” of the UK.
Johnson added that the EU had made a series of unjust demands to “exert leverage” in trade negotiations, including threatening to blockade food exports going into Northern Ireland.
Yet, many critics of the bill still have their reservations. The former Conservative Party leader Lord Hague wrote in the Telegraph that any breach of international law would constitute a “serious foreign policy error” and bring a “lasting and damaging effect on our international reputation and standing, diminishing our ability to exert our influence and protect our interests."
The Labour Party accused the PM of reneging on his own Withdrawal Agreement during the debate at the cost of the UK’s international reputation, but the party’s bid to reject the bill was voted down by a majority of 136.
The bill will today proceed to the committee stage, where it will be scrutinised in more detail.
Leadership in History
On this day in 1984, Prince Harry of Wales, the younger son of Charles, Prince of Wales, and Diana, Princess of Wales, was born in London.
On May 19, 2018, the Prince would marry actress Meghan Markle, with his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, naming him Duke of Sussex hours before the union. In January 2020, Prince Harry and his spouse announced their intention to step back as senior members of the Royal Family and divide their time between residing in the UK and North America.