Among the greatest contradictions of the coronavirus crisis has been its ability to seemingly stall time and speed it up simultaneously.
The world has paused collectively to mitigate the potentially devastating health implications of this virulent outbreak, but the decisions we have had to make in response have been necessarily fast.
A month into the first stage of lockdown, it’s helpful to pause and take stock of everything that we have achieved together.
The vast majority of people in the UK have heeded calls to “Stay home, save lives, and to protect the NHS.”
But beyond the immediate priority of protecting public health lies the importance of protecting the economy and that is where I am proud that the Growth Company and its staff have played their part.
We were fortunate in some ways to have an early insight into the potential impact of coronavirus. Back in January we supported relief efforts in Wuhan, which has an economic partnership with Manchester dating back to 1986.
Our resilience planning for Brexit meant that we were more prepared than otherwise would have been for this unexpected and unprecedented crisis. Those plans have evolved to meet the demands of steering our own path through lockdown while supporting our many businesses, clients and colleagues.
In addition, the successful introduction of agile working in March 2019 meant that Growth Company staff had already been adapting our working practises that are now common for almost everyone.
But we are not immune to the impact of the coronavirus crisis and I feel proud that our purpose and people have put us in the best possible position to respond.
As a social enterprise, we too are a business, and that gives us greater empathy and understanding with what our business clients are dealing with and the pressures and hard decisions they are having to make – as we are too. We’ve unfortunately had to furlough some of our staff and so we know what our clients are going through. We’re not in a cushioned position.
We’re talking to businesses every day and we’ve also had a live survey with businesses –with over 1,700 companies have responded so far - which we believe provides the most comprehensive insight available into the economic impact of coronavirus on the UK economy.
We know that there is hardly a sector that is not impacted, whether they are experiencing exponential demand servicing the health and care sector, or whether their business has dropped dramatically, as in leisure and hospitality.
We also have not stopped our own development and have now launched GC Consulting, another example of the way that we will continue to use our experience, knowledge and skills to support as many people as possible right across the UK.
The Growth Company has also had an important role to play in helping businesses access vital funding at this time. Colleagues at GC Business Finance are helping people to access the £3m Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme for Greater Manchester, a new funding stream which sits alongside the Government’s CBILS funding in the North West.
We have also helped to make business aware of the £629m in grants available to them via their Local Authority.
For many business leaders, this will be the first time they have had to make the types of decisions that are now being taken with little time to work through all the consequences. Choosing to furlough staff, or apply for grant or loan funding, are big decisions.
None of us have had to make these types of decisions in this type of environment. That is why it is so important to take time at least to seek advice and talk to others.
There is support from a range of places. Most business owners and managers will have an advisor – accountant, solicitor or friend – who they can bounce ideas off. As individuals working and living in isolation, we must make time to speak to colleagues and friends, family members and acquaintances.
Alongside that there are organisations like our own GC Business Growth Hub, who can offer advice, whether that’s dealing with an impending cashflow crunch, making a workforce more agile, identifying alternative business opportunities, or supporting the mental health of colleagues.
GC Business Growth Hub advisors are working extended hours to offer support and guidance.
Now more than ever before, it is of vital importance that we reach out to others which is why we want everybody to know that the Growth Company is #HereForBusiness and here for you.
For business advice and frequently asked questions, go to businessgrowthhub.com/coronavirus, which includes webinars. Or call a Hub advisor on 0161 359 3050.
Mark Hughes - Group Chief Executive