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A big day

April 17, 2024 by Alistair Enser

Today is a big day in England, as we move a step closer to the removal of lockdown restrictions. From today, people can meet outdoors in groups of up to 30 people, while groups of six or a larger group of two households can meet indoors.

Pubs and restaurants are allowed to serve people indoors, but diners and drinkers must remain seated. Indoor entertainment venues such as cinemas, museums, and children’s play areas can open, while theatres, concert halls, conference centres and sports stadia can also reopen, but with limits on capacity. And large indoor performances and sporting events will be allowed, although with a reduced number of spectators.

Although it may need to be a little different to before, at Reliance High-Tech we are really looking forward to seeing more of our customers and partners face to face, not just for business, but also on a deeper more social level. Ultimately being able to share a meal, a glass of wine or even perhaps a sports experience together!

Today is therefore one of the final stages on the government’s roadmap to freedom and comes after a long and arduous 15 months of lockdowns. It’s been made possible by a vaccination programme that has been more successful than perhaps anyone would have imagined. But challenges still exist. This weekend, the Prime Minister warned that the potentially greater transmissibility of the new Indian strain of Covid-19, the B.1.617.2 variant, might require a rethink of the final stage of its plans, which was scheduled for 12th June.

A mixed picture

It is with caution, therefore, that I welcome the more positive economic outlook being painted by the Bank of England, which believes the UK will grow at its fastest rate in over 70 years in 2021. GDP is now forecasted to rise 7.25%, up from its previous forecast of 5%. Of course, this comes on the back of a 9.9% fall in GDP in 2020 so, in effect, we are still behind.

Indeed, it will take time for the economy to return to its pre-Covid state, and this is true of life in general. Despite the world reopening slowly, I am not surprised to see that public transport use is still down 39% from normal: many are rightly still working from home, and sadly some still on furlough.

I was surprised, however, to see that bookings at restaurants in Manchester are up 90%, while the figure for London is far lower. Indeed, footfall in central London remains down by 56%, and the city is recovering much more slowly than other high streets across the UK. This may be because London relies on commuters and tourists more than Manchester. Hopefully, the opening of theatres, cinemas and restaurants will inject necessary life into these economically vital businesses.

A time of change

As a business, we are seeing continued interest and demand for technological solutions, which is great, but like every other business, we are still managing the challenges created by Covid and how to balance risk and opportunity.

In our case, we continually review “how do we balance the safety of the workforce” as we respond to increasing demand while navigating complex work environments such as delayed building works, due to widescale lack of building materials – or wider supply chains that have been hit by a double-whammy of the pandemic and Brexit.

It’s clear we are living through a period of dramatic change. With cautious optimism, opportunity is now returning for most, and as we step forward, we must continue to invest time in supporting and re-energising our teams, providing them with the tools to adapt for future success.

So, as the UK opens a little more this week, we should still take care. It will be interesting to see how public transport use, footfall in our streets and other measures of ‘normality’ change over the coming next week. One step forward!