Public affairs in unprecedented times

6 April 2020

Pete Bowyer and Paul Barnes, Partners

For a nation of shopkeepers – and shoppers – the need to stay at home to slow the spread of COVID-19 has been a shock to the system.   Rightly, responsible citizens and businesses across the country are playing their part in minimising the virus’s human impact in the immediate term, while many are also focused on mitigating its economic impact, both now and in the future.

Government support

The government has recognised this by providing an unprecedented raft of support packages and concessions, including on business rates. But, many individual sectors need to go beyond these in order to either serve their customers and communities effectively during this crisis, or recover from it further down the line.  Across the board, all organisations need to communicate effectively with their internal and external stakeholders.

DRD is already working alongside its clients on these fronts.  Our consultants are advising companies how to engage their teams at a time of enormous challenge and change across a whole variety of sectors including retail, food delivery, advertising and technology. We are working with them to incorporate messaging on COVID-19’s impact into existing materials, and helping them engage local and national government, including making requests for more support from public authorities where appropriate.

We are also advising businesses to look now at what the government can do to support them during the recovery period when it eventually comes, including progress that won’t cost the Government money: policy changes to remove unnecessary regulations.

International retail

International retail was one of the first sectors to feel the impact of COVID-19, particularly since the biggest international spenders are from China.  Last month DRD launched the Association of International Retail (AIR) to represent all companies that have an interest in the growth of retail sales from international visitors to the UK. As both AIR chief executive and a member of the government’s Tourism Industry Emergency Response (TIER) group, DRD’s Paul Barnes has been at the vanguard of fighting for policy support for the sector.

AIR’s ‘Post-COVID-19 UK International Retail Recovery Plan’ proposes cost-free changes to various regulations that will encourage more Chinese people to visit the UK once the virus is contained, including a streamlined visa application process and more coordination between the government’s tourism marketing agencies and the big brands.  One of AIR’s key asks was reflected in last month’s Budget with consultation announced on extending tax-free shopping to visitors from EU member states after the Brexit transition period, a move which could add over £1.4 billion in additional sales to the UK’s retail sector each year at no cost to the government.

The government has responded well to the challenge of ensuring most companies survive the lockdown.  We now need to ensure it shows the same urgency to making the recovery as strong as possible.

Photo credit: London Lovers

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