Often a crisis leads to consequences no one predicts at the time. Back in 2008 the government was racing to save banks like Northern Rock and Lloyds – few then were talking about the impact on the National Health Service (NHS) of a decade of austerity that resulted.
Likewise with COVID-19, the virus that is sweeping the world. Right now our priority is on keeping vulnerable people – especially older people or those with long term health conditions – safe as we know they are the most vulnerable. But it now looks like the economic impact will be with us for much longer than the virus.
That is why I welcome budget measures to support businesses to get through the difficulties created by the epidemic. As someone who set up their own business back in the early 1990s, I remember just how vulnerable small businesses can be to a change in the economic climate.
My own business started in the middle of a recession and had to weather both the dotcom bubble bursting and the financial crisis.
Right now we are seeing a massive impact on the travel industry, with bookings down significantly and the bankruptcy of Flybe. We have seen the biggest falls in stock markets since the financial crisis and the biggest drop in oil prices for four years.
Even more worrying is the damage to confidence that may cause consumers to retrench. For local businesses in our area who face much higher costs than in many parts of the country, that will be a real challenge.
This week I got an email from an events company in Godalming saying they had more cancelled events in the last two weeks than in the last 20 years – and I know they are not alone.
All the more reason, as the government plays its role in the budget, for local councils to play their part in supporting local businesses.
But I want to play my part as local MP which is why I will be organising a round table for local businesses most affected by what has happened so I can understand the issues they face and what would help them the most. I will then convey those concerns to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Last month we celebrated because a number of businesses and residents in Godalming avoided flooding thanks to the new flood defence scheme, a project I initiated but which would not have been possible without strong support from local councils, the Environment Agency and most importantly very active local residents.
That started when all those most affected by the 2013 floods came together to work out the way forward. It took six years but we got there – just in time.
Now we need the same collaborative approach to help many local businesses through a highly challenging period.