Confidence is at the heart of every successful economy. Confidence among businesses to grow, invest and create new jobs. Confidence among staff to go to work every day; innovate and deliver. And confidence among customers to spend money on goods and services.
For the past 18 months, the mood across the Welsh economy has been anything but confident. Stop-start restrictions have taken their toll across numerous sectors. And while tentative steps towards recovery are now underway, it will take time to fully restore that fragile confidence. It is crucial that we find a way to live with the virus which enables us to go about our daily lives in comfort.
Let’s be clear, this doesn’t mean throwing caution to the wind. Far from it. Too many people have lost their lives and livelihoods for that to happen. But nor does it mean returning to social and economic hibernation. What we need is balance.
We may never be totally free of COVID-19. The unpredictability of variants could see it hang around like a very unwanted house guest. But while it may never be fully eradicated, it can be properly managed, and risks to the most vulnerable very effectively minimised.
So how do we live safely with the virus?
The vaccine rollout is a world-beating success. The extraordinary efforts of the public and private sectors working in partnership to develop and deliver an effective vaccine across the UK has put us in a position where COVID can, finally, be pushed into the background.
Promoting vaccine uptake, particularly among staff, is a no-brainer for business. The greater the level of public immunisation, the more secure workplaces will be – in turn giving greater confidence to customers and staff alike.
But there’s also a role for enterprise in helping us bank and leverage the platform vaccines provide. The public and private sectors must work together to ensure the successes of the vaccine programme are replicated when it comes to boosters and developing effective treatments.
The long-awaited shift of the Test, Track and Protect system to something more focused on ‘warn and inform’ is a hugely important step as we reopen the Welsh economy. While testing has always been vitally important, the number of double-vaccinated people being ‘pinged’ as a contact of someone with coronavirus has been out of proportion with the scale of transmission, depriving businesses of healthy staff just when they needed them most.
There are also a range of COVID-secure tools at our disposal to help build confidence. Face masks can continue to inspire confidence in certain close-contact spaces, including public transport and retail settings. That should reassure many. Other interventions, like mandatory COVID status certificates must be considered carefully and involve clear partnership with business and other stakeholders to ensure they’re implemented effectively.
For areas like international travel, we have to employ a clear, risk-based approach. The UK cannot afford to be first on vaccines but last in reopening international trade. Prolonging the economic impact of COVID simply keeps vital jobs at risk.
Confidence can be a fragile thing, but we know that its relationship to growth is a strong one. Better confidence leads to greater spending, investment and output – enabling Welsh businesses at last to trade their way to recovery. To paraphrase Field of Dreams: “If you build confidence, growth will come.”