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Amy Crowson

Councils must help businesses to be bold

To aid local economic recovery, businesses must be given freedom to diversify

From the outset, it was clear that the impact of Covid-19 on businesses large and small was going to be huge. But in the midst of enormous challenges (and the announcement of equally enormous government support packages) one of the undeniably positive developments has been the number of businesses coming up with new ways to survive.

There has been much discussion around what local authorities should be doing to support local businesses, both in monetary terms, and also in relation to how they can help revitalise the local economy. There is no doubt that with their unrivalled knowledge of local areas, councils have a fundamental role to play in recovery and reformation that will go beyond administering the current business grant scheme on behalf of central government.

But local authorities also play another fundamental role in helping businesses to think about and deliver services differently – by ensuring that local regulations and bureaucracy support businesses to be bold and do not hinder creativity and entrepreneurial spirit.

One inspiring, if small, example of this has been the relaxing of takeaway rules for food and drink businesses. An increasing number of pubs and restaurants have adapted to provide takeaway or deliveries during lockdown. The speed at which these businesses have adapted to ensure the safety of workers and consumers has been testament to their determination to survive these tough times.

In the village where I live, the local pub is a hub for meeting neighbours and friends, as it is in many rural locations. It would be a sad day, if on return to the ‘new normal’, this valued community asset was no longer there. But remarkably a relaxation of the rules has allowed it to remain at the heart of the community, by supplying takeaways and also by acting as a butcher and baker. The most vulnerable and others who are self-isolating have access to what they need, while the pub is simultaneously ensuring that it still has a future post-crisis.

Another great example of diversification is our local farm park. Normally packed with children playing in the adventure park and meeting the newest animals, it has been transformed in the interim into a drive-through farm shop. Again, this is an example of a business that has found a way to serve its community, save its workers from being furloughed and secure its future.

This entrepreneurial spirit hopefully signals to other businesses that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and that diversifying or adapting (where possible to do so) helps to ensure a continued existence. It is also a timely reminder that monetary support is not the only possible solution – and that local authorities need to ensure that they create the right conditions for success as we transition into the ‘new normal’.  These conditions of success include:

  • Building the positives and lessons learned from the current crisis into recovery plans for the local economy – we have a once in a generation chance to reset the status quo.
  • Ensuring that problems aren’t narrow framed, and that people are allowed to think outside the box – anything is possible if we approach challenges differently.
  • Simplifying bureaucratic processes and local rules and regulations – continuing to look at adapting traditional ways of working, or relaxing them where appropriate, to support new ideas.

The ‘new normal’ is still unknown, but I’m hopeful that the positive changes and community spirit seen over the last few weeks will be a part of it.

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