IF THEY ARE NOT IN PANIC THEY SHOULD BE
Things are no longer changing. They have changed and they are not going back to what they were…..ever!
While the Government tries to desperately cajole the UK office workforce back to working as before, both workers and companies resist, and with good reason. They quite like working from home, it’s cheaper for them minus big commuter tariffs, it is shorter hours as they no longer waste time on travel, it’s safer as there is less chance of catching the virus, they may be saving on childcare costs as well. For the employer the advantages are also clear, as their workforce is in multi locations they have eliminated the risk of a big outbreak at a central location where a huge chunk of their workforce could either be infected or in lockdown at the one time, doing untold damage to the company’s business. With today’s technology there is no need to all meet up in a central office anymore. As each day passes home working becomes more efficient and effective for companies and employees alike.
So it’s wake up time for the UK politicians and civil servants who have a massive job on their hands and very limited time to carry it out. To make matters worse they are running about like headless chickens with no idea how to put Humpty back together again. It took them long enough to recognise he had been smashed to pieces yet they are still at the shaking their heads and gluepot stage, rather than recognising it’s never going to be the same again and that a brand new Humpty, differently constructed, is going to be needed.
This has enormous ramifications. A survey for Sky News in August found that footfall in UK CITIES was only at one sixth of what it was before lockdown in March. So city centre retail and hospitality businesses in these cities are having to try and survive minus around 80% of their normal potential customers. Retail was already struggling with high business rates and online competition, there is no hope of salvation coming from that quarter.
Many companies have realised they have no need of the big, expensive, city centre office blocks and are now doing their best to unload the leases as they plan to continue after this crisis with the home working systems they introduced because of the crisis, perhaps with smaller meeting place offices or planning to use hotels for any big meetings they need, but keeping those to a minimum. Many of these big retail buildings and office complexes are owned by hedge funds and pension companies and were thought a safe, long term investment. No more, they are going to be as dodgy as get out in the future. For those big property corporations who borrowed heavily to build, secure in the thought it would be a dripping roast in future years, think again, Covid has just disappeared with the meat. Expect many business failures in this sector as they struggle to keep up with the debt repayments as many of their lease clients default and go bust.
So what are the politicians to do? There are no easy answers, public transport cannot survive as it is, minus the big chunk of commuters who no longer need it, finance in the form of business rates is going to be no more, so politicians finally discover that ignoring this growing business rating disaster can no longer be ignored. It’s heads out the sand time whether you like it or not. AGR this may be your time!
A word of caution too to the many people who work in the public sector and who perhaps think they are immune from many of these problems. Think again, these problems are at a disaster level easily sufficient to make much of the public sector unaffordable. If private industry and commerce is disappearing then it could take a lot of the public sector with it.
The disaster level has all been disguised through the use of furlough but its only a matter of weeks before that ends and the true impact of the Covid 19 economic crisis becomes fully apparent. It is not going to be pretty. With self inflicted Brexit ripping us out the Single Market only months away real disaster is hurtling towards us all at rapid speeds.
To try and solve this is going to take a recognition of the scale of the task, the willingness to scrap the existing, failed, business destroying taxation systems and their replacement with taxes that encourage growth, business development, taking less from each business but with a view to developing a lot more businesses and jobs and collecting the additional tax revenues from this much wider Tax base. Taxing the surviving businesses and jobs more, using the existing, clumsy, inefficient job destroying taxes to make up the shortfall, can only result in killing them off as well, and all the jobs they provide.
This is when you have to hope that the politicians and civil servants tasked with leading us through this threatening morass have wide experience of business, are innovative thinkers and are not afraid to think outside the box.
That is the most frightening thing of all. I have looked at them, in Scotland and England, and I just don’t see those talents. I see time served politicians and civil servants, promoted on a buggin’s turn basis, with little or no business experience, no track records of innovation and creative thinking and a record of ignoring these problems for years, hoping they would just go away. Well they haven’t, the music has stopped and they have been left holding the bomb.
There is going to be a lot of casualties. I take no pleasure in writing that.
I am, as always
YOURS FOR SCOTLAND
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