Mind the gaps
The Government’s approach has been to mitigate, as far as possible, the impacts on the economy, absent for the moment any concerns about the public finances (which will bite in a serious way once things are back to normal).
But with the coronavirus crisis evolving so fast, it is inevitable that the Government’s response is partial and has left some parts of the economy behind.
The UK civil service is one of the best in the world, but it is clearly struggling to respond to the immensity of the crisis – so it is perfectly understandable that the policy responses we have seen have focused on the most public problems, leaving some which are no less pressing but less immediately obvious for now unaddressed.
Noticeably, many of the business measures the Government has offered for now concentrate on smaller and retail businesses. This leaves obvious gaps – if you operate in the food (or more broadly the FMCG) space, but as a wholesaler rather than retailer, you are a vital part of the supply chain that serves the customers. But on the face of it, the business rates relief announced by the Government will not help you. In a completely different area, large infrastructure projects whose planning consent depends on their ability to break ground by a particular deadline may also find themselves unable to deliver to timetable, as they no longer have a workforce.
These (and there will be others) are issues it is legitimate to raise with Government. The fact that they have not addressed them to date does not mean they will not in the future – and they need to know where the outstanding issues are. An example of this is commercial rents where, until last night, larger businesses that were facing problems paying their rent had not yet received any dedicated help from the Government (outside of the ability to take on extra debt) – in marked contrast to private tenants. This has now been resolved.
The way in which legitimate concerns are communicated however, is important. At times of crisis, Government works round the clock to respond; right now it will be filled with exhausted, stressed people. Their bandwidth will inevitably be limited. Contact needs to be made in a way which recognises the efforts that are being made – and helps them understand immediately the nature of the concern, and why it needs to be acted upon.
First published in our weekly Political Capital newsletter
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