By Ian Price, Director, CBI Wales
As the results are mulled over and the dust begins to settle on last week’s election results, I’ve heard one message time and time again from businesses: now begins the real hard work. Getting elected to the Senedd is a tremendous honour and Assembly Members new and old deserve huge congratulations for their campaigns.
But with jobs and livelihoods still at risk, there really is no time to lose in cracking on with the tasks ahead. All of us need to redouble efforts to pool our collective talents, insights and know-how to develop the solutions needed to overcome challenges and seize the opportunities before us to get Wales’ economy back on track. And business stands ready to play its part.
For many businesses, the gradual easing of COVID restrictions provide hope. Garden centres, barbers and others have been able to reopen their doors, albeit in an often-limited capacity. This week saw further easing of measures for some of our hardest-hit sectors. Having lost out on festive trading, hospitality, leisure and non-essential retail firms will be looking ahead with greater optimism than they have for some time.
It’s not all good news. Some sectors vital to the Welsh economy are still holding their breath. Airlines, airports and other travel firms will remain under huge strain until international travel is able to ramp up once more. Yes, we all want to go on that much-needed summer holiday, but passenger and freight travel is the lifeblood of those firms. It’s also essential for wider economic recovery, with many firms reliant on reaching global markets and supply chains. Prioritising prime destinations for UK business travel to key trading markets with high rates of vaccine deployment and low virus rates is a must for industry.
For our vital manufacturing sector, it’s clarity around the future of social distancing that stands out as a pressing priority for government action. As we reduce restrictions further, we need to look closely at how we amend social distancing guidance and law to better enable economic recovery and build confidence for consumers and employers alike.
Step-by-step relaxation, incredible vaccine progress, and a boost in Covid testing can give all of us hope that the page can finally start to be turned on the pandemic. But firms know only too well that the impact will be felt for far longer. Restrictions can still be tough and a lag in demand will make trading conditions difficult for some time – with different sectors, and even areas of the country, recovering at different speeds.
Government support has provided a lifeline during unprecedented times, but with firms low on cash, confidence and demand, continued support may be needed. That’s why we need all parties in the Welsh Assembly to work with their counterparts in Westminster, the other nations of the UK and business to put economic recovery at the top of their in-trays.
Yet we mustn’t forget that COVID-19 is a truly international issue – and the tragic events unfolding in India are a stark reminder. Looking outwards, and ahead to the G7 in June, the CBI was proud to host this week’s meeting of business federations from across the constituent countries. Reducing trade protectionism by strengthening the WTO and tackling climate change were key themes and, with the UK also hosting the COP26 summit later this year, the UK is in a truly unique position to build consensus and mobilise action on those major challenges of the age.
Business must stand shoulder-to-shoulder with government to deliver on the promise of a fairer, greener and more prosperous future, at home and abroad.