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Business and Covid-19

Adrian Farrell, Chair of ABC Business Partnership Alliance

By Adrian Farrell, Chair of ABC Business Partnership Alliance

Adrian Farrell, Chair of Business Partnership Alliance for Armagh, Banbridge & Craigavon and member of Community Planning Strategic Partnership reflects on how local businesses have reacted to the Covid-19 crisis so far and priorities for an uncertain future.

Business Partnership Alliance – a network for businesses across the borough
The last few months have been very challenging for all parts of society, and businesses are no exception. Most local firms are small businesses with less than 10 employees and having a collaborative business network that covers the whole of borough has been extremely useful in the current crisis. The BPA has been a support network for local businesses and a strong voice, ensuring local businesses are heard at all levels of government.

Listening to businesses
The BPA worked with the council to develop a survey of local business which was open from 27th April to 10th May while the lockdown was still in full effect. There were 288 responses to the survey, or 3.3% of local businesses, which was a great return rate. The survey showed the impact of the virus and the lockdown it necessitated, with only 36% of businesses continuing to operate in some way. Many were having to avail of the furlough scheme to support their staff and half of businesses were having difficulty accessing government support or needed more help with accessing it. The main challenges highlighted by respondents were access to finance and cash flow, retaining customer confidence and promoting the health and safety of staff and customers.

Local innovations and ideas for recovery
The survey also revealed the innovation and ideas for recovery that have come from local businesses. Local companies acted quickly to adapt or were already planning innovations for when lockdown was eased. Businesses moved quickly online, increased their social media presence and worked with other businesses to promote each other. Some local businesses quickly shifted their operations to meet the urgent need for PPE. The BPA was able to work with council to deliver a series of webinars to support businesses with some of the issues they raised in the survey and the format worked really well.

Easing lockdown – working together to build confidence
From the survey it was also clear that in the immediate recovery period when lockdown started to ease, getting the details right, both big and small, would be crucial. ABC Council and other statutory agencies have been listening. Clean and tidy town centres, signage to promote social distancing, a shop local campaign, a loyalty discount scheme and outdoor seating areas: work is ongoing on all of these in response to local businesses.  Free parking in council carparks until the end of the summer is another initiative that was requested by the Business Partnership Alliance. Our members are delighted that council agreed to keep car parks free of charge until September. We appreciate the huge amount of hard work and the responsive attitude of council and other agencies, which are paying off. These initiatives are giving people confidence and encouraging them back into our town centres. We are looking forwarding to continuing the collaboration with Council and the Executive through their £11m investment to support the economic recovery of town and city centres from the fallout from Covid-19.

Rethinking town centres
Town centre retail was already facing major challenges when Covid hit and the current crisis has accelerated change. £3 out of every £10 is now spent online. Much has been written about the future of the high street and the consensus that emerges is that while the challenges are experienced globally, solutions will be local. To revitalise our town centres we need to ask ourselves “what are they for?” There are plenty of strengths for us to build on including our rich heritage, our town centre parks, independent traders, as well as the creativity and community spirit that we have seen over the past few months. While our immediate focus needs to be on recovery, the time will come soon for conversations about the future of our towns and villages in the borough. The BPA is looking forward to working with colleagues across the community and in government to start these conversations.  We see real value in a partnership approach and we are delighted to be involved in the community planning partnership, which enables a holistic take on the development of our places.


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