Read the latest round-up from David Ralph, HotSW LEP CEO
Since the world was thrown into turmoil in March we’ve been gathering reports and data from our partners and a breadth of business sectors from all over the Heart of the South West to identify the main economic impacts of COVID-19 and subsequent lockdown.
Statistics and anecdotal evidence have been flowing in, and we’ve kept apace on a weekly basis to feed this valuable insight into the Heart of the South West Economic Recovery Group (HEROG) and shape our messages to our local MPs and national Government about what specific interventions are needed here.
All of this work has been working towards the goal of setting out a Route Map to Recovery, which we’ve launched this week and can be seen here, with an explanatory article below.
The Route Map to Recovery document is the blueprint to the three-phase plan to Restart, Revitalise and Grow; and will be developed into a thoroughly action-oriented three-year delivery plan to be published by the end of September.
Our Quarterly Business Bulletin, gives a snapshot of the situation in mid-May based on surveys and observations from the business representative partner organisations that combine evidence from their sectors and membership.
Since the report was produced, other observations coming from the Growth Hub feedback surveys and the Heart of the South West Economic Resilience and Opportunities Group appear to re-iterate the headline findings of the Business Bulletin, although figures inevitably change on a daily basis.
- There are concerns from the tourism industry about the potential effect of what they’re referring to as “three winters”, meaning that a very short summer season is not enough to give a viable average income over twelve months. Many attractions report they won’t open this summer due to the costs of social distancing measures – a concern which is also held by hospitality traders due to the reduced number of customers they are able to accommodate at a distance.
- The lack of hospitality outlets has had a negative effect on the supply chain and volatile pricing in the food and drink industry, and farming, fishing and agriculture, which has exposed risks in dependence on narrow markets. Detailed findings from this sector are available in the NFU South West survey.
- In relation to the Government support schemes, many businesses report problems with the upfront payment and lack of flexibility of the furlough scheme allowing for some amount of business continuity; the Business Interruption Loan Scheme can be slow and is not accessible to some; support for the self-employed is delayed and there are exemptions in eligibility; Universal Credit is not available to everyone affected and applicants can face delays.
On a positive note:
- There are further indications of businesses moving to reset and recovery phases, and encouragingly, increasing numbers of businesses are seeking out support from the Growth Hub outside the remit of COVID-19 response. The Growth Hub’s latest newsletter with up to date navigation of Govt support and other useful resources is here.
- The Heart of the South West Better Business for All partnership has produced a very useful toolkit with practical advice on re-opening safely, see the article below.
- The HotSW Digital Skills Partnership has launched a UK -first programme of online courses designed to help HotSW businesses Bounce Back Digital from the COVID crisis, more details are below.
- Small business grants have been largely processed and the new discretionary loan scheme has gone live in some HotSW districts, with all districts expected to be live by next week.
- The Local Authorities are also working on their town centre re-opening plans in preparation for non-retail outlets being able to open on 15 June, and day-tourism is being managed by the re-opening of some toilets in popular beauty spots.
- Over the last two weeks there has been a noticeable improvement in prices at the Brixham Fish Market auction, the larger beamer fishing vessels are now spending up to six days at sea rather than the previous four. Online trading platforms such as the nationally acclaimed, Plymouth-based Call4Fish are leading the way for creating new routes to market to keep the industry afloat.
This is by no means the end of the effects of the pandemic and subsequent lock-down on our local economy, and it is feared that the effect in this part of the country will be felt deeper and for longer, due to our dependence on sectors that are least resilient and the last to be allowed to open. On top of this, we had a concentration of economic shocks prior to lockdown with the collapse of Flybe, the closure of Axminster carpets and the uncertainty of Brexit disproportionately impacting on farming and tourism.
However with our Route Map to Recovery we can at least begin to look forward with some direction and we urge you, our stakeholders, to back us in our vision to build a better economy that’s cleaner and more inclusive. In the meantime, stay safe and keep in touch, David.
Heart of the South West Launches COVID-19 Route Map to Recovery
The Heart of the South West LEP has launched its Route Map to Recovery which outlines measures to help stimulate the economy across Devon, Plymouth, Somerset and Torbay through three phases: Restart, Revitalise and Grow.
Evidence has shown that the economic impact of COVID-19 in the Heart of the South West area is expected to be deeper and longer than in other parts of the UK. There are specific challenges here; including reliance on those sectors that are hardest hit by lockdown, especially in rural and coastal communities; a high proportion of jobs are at risk, particularly affecting young people; and the effects of no tourism and hospitality impacts on the food, farming and fishing sectors.
The Restart phase entails supporting businesses to re-open, getting the unemployed into work and supporting the hardest-hit sectors. The Revitalise phase aims to accelerate recovery through local interventions on training and growth support; and the Grow phase aims to create a better, cleaner, more inclusive economy with higher productivity and earnings.
LEP Chair Karl Tucker said: “The Route Map to Recovery is our blueprint for building a better economy that’s clean and inclusive with a Digital step-change, whilst targeting the hardest hit sectors to enable their quick revival.
“We have the opportunities and the knowledge-base in our area to bring about the right sort of recovery; and for this we need the Government to back us with investment in infrastructure and skills, and to formally recognise our powerhouse economic region: The Great South West.”
The Route Map to Recovery updates the aims and opportunities in the Heart of the South West’s Local Industrial Strategy submission to Government, with Clean and Inclusive Growth being its central theme to re-growing the economy.
As this plan is launched, substantial economic assessments are ongoing to ensure decisions are driven by data, and task forces will ensure responses cover all localities. The LEP is developing its pipeline of investments to bid for in future funding opportunities – including the replacement to EU funds – to prioritise those which best support recovery and growth. The area-wide strategies that have developed in the last 5 years are being consolidated to produce a single three-year action plan for all partners to work to, which will be completed by the end of September.
The Route Map to Recovery is available here.
Quarterly Business Bulletin Spring 2020
Partner organisations that represent over 25,000 businesses across the patch have helped bring this bulletin together, which includes headline issues of the day and has helped define the LEP’s Route Map to Recovery. The Spring 2020 issue headlines the local synopsis in relation to the national picture. Previous issues of the Quarterly Business Bulletin are available here.
Better Business for All Re-Starting Safely Toolkit
A toolkit to help businesses in the Heart of the South West to reopen safely following the easing of lockdown has been launched.
Better Business for All (BBFA) is a partnership of local authorities, business groups, regulators and trading standards services in Devon, Plymouth, Somerset and Torbay, who, in partnership with the Heart of the South West Growth Hub, have created a resource providing guidance and advice to businesses.
It follows the government’s announcement that from June 15 non-essential businesses, can reopen.
The toolkit provides information and links to help businesses understand what their regulatory and legal responsibilities are and what they have to do to restart their business safely.
It will answer questions ranging from ‘can I open?’ right through to how to reopen safely; travel advice for employees and visitors; and guidance on personal protective equipment and hygiene.
LEP Chair Karl Tucker said: “This is an excellent resource from the award-winning partnership Better Business for All. It provides very thorough and detailed guidance, as well as useful documents such as a risk assessment template, an action plan and business checklists.
“The Heart of the South West economy has been hit hard by the impacts of COVID-19, so it’s important that those businesses that can open are given the support they need to stay safe and resilient.
“This new toolkit has been produced in partnership with the BBFA and our Growth Hub, which is on hand to provide wider business support to any company in Devon, Plymouth, Somerset and Torbay.”
And for further trading standards information visit the Devon, Somerset and Torbay Trading Standards website.
Bounce Back Digital is a free programme of webinars and short courses to help small businesses in Devon, Plymouth, Somerset and Torbay keep trading during the Covid-19 restrictions by moving some or all of their operations online.
The programme of 30 sessions covering a range of topics is the first of its kind in the country, delivered by the Heart of the South West Digital Skills Partnership (HotSW DSP) and runs throughout June and July for any business in the area with less than 250 employees.
Businesses can learn about collaboration tools and channels to reach customers; how to set up their own e-commerce website; how to use Worldpay, Stripe & other payment gateways; digital photography and video; plus how to keep their business secure online.
Experts from across the region will host informative webinar ‘subject matter introductions’ and run over 20 free follow-on courses aimed at helping small businesses mitigate the impact of the pandemic on their business.
Digital Skills Partnership Manager, Charlotte Collyer said:
“This is a very exciting programme for the Digital Skills Partnership to be launching at this time. 30 free webinars and courses giving clear, practical tuition to help small businesses set up on-line and open up new markets securely and efficiently. We are the first Digital Skills Partnership in the country to be launching this type of programme, so our work has attracted national attention from other DSPs and from the Department of Culture, Media, Sport and Digital.”
“I encourage any business in the HotSW area to have a look at our programme and sign up for the training they need to Bounce Back Digital!”
The program launched on 1 June for registrations, with the first webinar being held on 8 June. Webinars are restricted to the first 100 registrations and courses are being deliberately kept to online classes of 15, to enable maximum engagement, interactivity and build peer to peer support and learning. The courses are short, ranging from one-hour to nine hours in total. The objective is that through the knowledge transferred the business is able to immediately set up and start using the new tool. The full programme of webinars and courses can be found here: https://heartofswlep.co.uk/about-the-lep/how-we-are-organised/digital-skills-partnership/bounce-back-digital/
Chair of the Heart of the South West LEP, Karl Tucker said:
“The LEP is working on its COVID-19 Recovery Plan which will be published in the coming weeks, and this type of intervention to help businesses mitigate, adapt and grow are integral to the success of our future economy.
“This new programme of webinars and courses adds to the extensive business support resources provided by our Growth Hub and I would encourage businesses to take advantage of this programme.”
The webinars and courses are being delivered by experts drawn from across the South West and include digital trainers from Cosmic, LimeCloud, TechSparkUK, BlueScreen IT,WSX Enterprise and Natwest’s FreeAgent colleagues.
This is a free programme funded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Digital Skills Innovation Fund delivered by the Heart of the South West LEP Digital Skills Partnership for the Heart of the South West LEP Growth Hub which supports businesses with free and impartial advice on starting up, development and growth.