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The greatest challenge of our lives

Anthony Impey
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Two weeks ago, it was business as usual and COVID-19 was just something in the news headlines. Today, the government has brought the country to a standstill in an attempt to control the spread of the virus and curtail its death toll.

I have spoken to lots of entrepreneurs and small business owners over the last week and we are all fighting for the survival of our businesses. For many, a life’s work has been decimated in a matter of days. And it’s not like there is anyone with all the answers of how to respond because nothing remotely like this has happened before. No amount of planning or foresight could prepare a business for the scale of the challenge we now face. There haven’t been any webinars about planning for a health and economic apocalypse… well, not until last week!

Entrepreneurs and small business owners across the world are focused on how to get through the next few months while the healthcare system gets the virus under control. I have seen how some have been able to pivot their business models in response to the new world order, including colleges and training providers who have moved their classes online to continue teaching and educating. For many others, such a rapid change in direction is not feasible and fighting for survival is the only option.

There is some solace in the government’s willingness to take bold action in response to the crisis. Last week alone, the headline economic measures included £330bn pledged to support businesses and a comprehensive job retention scheme. Many parts of the economy are still left without any safety net including the self-employed who make up a significant and essential part of the workforce. And while the Further Education sector has received some assurances about funding, many independent training providers lack clarity about their funding during the crisis.

What is evident, is that the machinery of government is in overdrive to keep as much of the economy as intact as possible, because while recession is inevitable there could be a strong rebound if the business infrastructure is still in place. A key part of this is the skills system, which will need to be stronger than ever to reskill the workforce that will be needed post-crisis.

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I know that all the business representative groups, including the Federation of Small Businesses, where I chair the Apprenticeships and Skills Policy Unit, have been working night and day to channel their members’ issues and advise government on what needs to happen. The input of their expert advice is helping determine how government responds to specific business challenges.

The next few months are going to be unbelievably hard for every entrepreneur and small business owner. But, in all this uncertainty, the one thing that we can be sure of is that it will end, and normality will return; perhaps different to the one we had before, but it will return.  And as entrepreneurs and small business leaders, we will play a crucial role in rebuilding the economy. Our innovation, creativity and agility are precisely the qualities required to do this.

The very best of luck to you all.

Anthony Impey, Serial entrepreneur and chair of the Apprenticeships and Skills Policy Unit, Federation of Small Businesses

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