In, out, shake it all about ... what exactly is the plan Mr Prime Minister?

Is there light at the end of the lockdown tunnel? Picture: PA Wire

Is there light at the end of the lockdown tunnel? Picture: PA Wire - Credit: PA

Bosses and economists alike have demanded the government hatches a plan now to exit the hokey cokey lockdown strategy.

Government has been criticised for bringing various regions and then the entire country in and out of countless, complicated restrictions giving businesses little confidence from one day to the next.

But more vitally, with the clock ticking towards Christmas and Brexit, businesses need to know what is around the corner.

Professor Joshua Bamfield is the director for the Centre for Retail Research and said that entering a second lockdown this close to the vital festive trading period would be “absolutely terrifying” for firms.

“They have just ordered in stock and will be hoping to recoup losses from the first lockdown and have now been ordered to close,” he said. “A plan is absolutely vital for these businesses. They have no idea what is happening from one month to the next.

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“The other problem is that coming in and out of lockdown is undermining the entire strategy because people don’t take it as seriously. As a result we’re having all of the damage to the business without as much gain.”

His call for a plan was echoed by Ayobami Ilori, an economics lecturer at the University of East Anglia specialising in dynamic and international macroeconomics.

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“There is no forecaster in the world who would want to predict how we will rebalance this spending – but we do need a plan for the future, the phrase ‘no news is good news’ simply does not work here,” he said. “Businesses need to know what the long-term aims are so they can plan accordingly.

“We’ve got Brexit around the corner and no plans have been revealed yet. These things take time and money but directors don’t know where they stand – or where to expect cuts.”

But what are businesses saying?

Andy Wood, Adnams chief executive, called on the government to provide an exit strategy from lockdown not only for businesses but also for consumers.

“While the treasury has played a blinder much of government has been too reactive,” he said. “We need a new outlook.

“I think the government needs to start with the citizen and start creating a vision for the future on the other side of Covid-19. I understand that’s difficult – there isn’t a playbook for this – but both business and the people on the street need to know where this is all going.

“Business needs certainty. Business thrives on knowing what its trading environment is going to be. Unfortunately, nobody has a crystal ball to tell how long this virus is going to last and when a vaccine might be here.

“In the meantime, I would urge the government to fix their test and trace system and also get on with these rapid tests that have been mooted in the media.”

The end of UK’s year-long Brexit transition period coming to an end on December 31 is also contributing to the feeling of uncertainty among the business community.

Mr Wood added: “I think the government has got to look at if it can afford to load more uncertainty on top of businesses and the economy when we already facing such uncertainty with Covid-19.

“If I was in a decision-making position in government, I would take a long, hard look at that because how much uncertainty can the economy take?”

However Oliver Pritchard of law firm Howes Percival said that the apparent silence over Brexit may be a tactic.

He explained: “Given the negotiation with the EU our government cannot say they are desperate for a deal. In any negotiation you cannot reveal the bottom line of what you need otherwise the person you are dealing with has you over a barrel for the duration of the talks. The government can’t come out and say they absolutely have to get a deal otherwise it would reduce their bargaining power. The EU has to believe we would walk away without a deal if it’s not agreeable.

“What I think is more likely is that the silence in the media is because our government and the EU are in tunnel negotiation where they basically lock themselves down and hash it all out. The businesses I work with are largely working on the basis there would be some sort of deal because the majority acknowledge that leaving without one would be a bad idea.

“When it comes to coronavirus the government are dealing with the situation on the advice of medical advisors. In corporate law which is my line of work we did see some deals not going through because of the virus during the first lockdown – but far fewer this time.

“What we need to remember is that businesses are much more adaptable than we think. As long as they know the rules they need to abide by then many will do what they can to alter their business to fit these. Having said that - these businesses can’t have the rug pulled out from under their feet time and be expected to survive.”

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