Open for business…

Now that the Prime Minister has announced plans to reopen shops, gyms and outdoor hospitality from 12 April, it’s good to see positive steps so that businesses can move forward and thrive.

The decision, though not wholly surprising, is disappointing. As Ian Wright CBE, FDF chief executive says, the roadmap “shows no signs of taking account of any input from business”.

For many food and drink manufacturers supplying the hospitality and food service sectors, a return to business as usual seems an awful long way off.

It is now left to the Chancellor to fill in the gaps left by the Prime Minister. He should outline extensions to the furlough and credit insurance schemes as part of his Budget announcement next week.

As Wright states, the food and drink industry is the UK’s largest manufacturing sector. It will be key to the country’s economic recovery, with a footprint in every region.

Government has little option but to provide additional support to ensure those businesses most at risk can “play their part in putting the country back on its feet.”

Phil Whitehead, Western Europe managing director for Molson Coors Beverage Company, puts forward the idea of a “financial bridge” so that food and drink can play its powerful role in the economic recovery and the social wellbeing of the nation.

It wouldn’t be a bad idea when reviewing the data, with a view to lifting further restrictions, that the Government consider accelerating the current timescales for re-opening provided the data shows that the vaccine roll-out is continuing to have the desired impact.

The long-term damage to the food and drink industry as a result of this pandemic and the long road to full recovery should not be underestimated.

We’ve had a roadmap out of the pandemic now it’s time for an economic roadmap to give operators the confidence and stability to plan for future growth.

It won’t be the smoothest of transitions as with a greater easing of lockdown measures, comes the re-introduction of social distancing measures as well as renegotiating rental agreements, re-opening supply chain channels, and evolving staff rotasto keep both staff and consumers safe.

Nigel Naylor-Smith, head of retail and hospitality, Fujitsu UK is right when he says “the trick is finding the balance between partial re-opening and short term economic sustainability.”

Flexibility will be key to meet post-pandemic demand.

The British public may show a huge desire to ‘make up for lost time’ or they may stick to online ordering and dining at home, at least in the short-to-medium term.

Ultimately, however, it’s vital that the reopening of the economy is approached so that businesses and consumers can return to a “normal” safely, effectively and without fear of another lockdown.

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