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One trick ponies’ face a difficult future

Reading the headlines, you could be forgiven for thinking that the end of the world is nigh. Even HM Government seems to be doing its best to depress us all. However, there are some encouraging signs if you bother to look. 

The Coronavirus pandemic has actually taught us a host of valuable lessons –many of them uncomfortable, but some genuinely positive and uplifting. Who, for example, could have predicted that F1 giants McLaren and Mercedes would offer their technology, engineers and ultra modern facilities to design and produce advanced respiratory equipment for use in our NHS hospitals? They saw instantly how their know-how and resources might be put to good use. And, best part of all, they didn’t wait to be asked – they acted. 

Across the country, there have been numerous examples of far less glamorous and prosperous companies adapting their production lines to make masks, screens and other PPE for nurses, doctors and carers working on the front line. Elsewhere, retailers are upping their online offerings, restaurants are learning to provide takeaways and our drug companies, universities and scientists are working flat out to find a vaccine and cure for Covid-19. 

Businesses of all shapes and sizes have demonstrated their ability innovate and adapt, proving that they are not simply ‘one trick ponies’ rooted in the past. Such qualities are going to be needed in abundance as we ease out of lockdown.

The other important point to make is that it is not just about money. The banks have been dishing out huge wads of Government/taxpayers’ cash which, of course, has been vital. But the opportunity should be seized simultaneously to enhance businesses for what lies ahead, not just help them return to the past as it was. Industry needs new ideas and the situation cries out for an organisation along the lines of the old Industrial and Commercial Finance Corporation (which became 3i) whose original purpose was to provide long-term investment funding for ambitious SMEs in the post war era. Our universities also have a vital role to play.

One wild idea recently floated was that the UK could provide an escape route for Hong Kong’s entrepreneurs by creating a new centre for them on Teesside – outrageous, certainly, and most unlikely to come to fruition. But just think what it would do for the North East.

The country will need these characteristics in abundance as we haul ourselves out of lockdown.

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