Champions Round Table- State of the economy
As non-essential retail begins to open up once more from 12 April, there is both anticipation and trepidation amongst businesses and the general public as to how the high street with fare in its recovery.
Both the retail and hospitality sector have been hit hard by the pandemic but have shown resilience, with many adapting well in the face of adversity, establishing take away services and online stores.
However, weekday footfall in the town centre is intrinsically linked to office workers. With home / office working hybrid set to remain for the foreseeable future, this month’s round table looked at the future of the high street.
How do we increase footfall into the town centre? How do we create a town centre experience that encourages people to spend time in Chesterfield? These were just some of the topics covered in the discussion.
This month’s round table was, once again, held remotely using video conferencing technology. Organised by Destination Chesterfield in conjunction with the Derbyshire Times, it brought together key figures from the business community to discuss how the pandemic has affected businesses and how we can focus on both recovering and thriving over the next 12 months and beyond.
AM – Anna Melton – Director, In the Works PR (Chair)
PT – Phil Tooley – Research and Development Tax Consultant, randd uk ltd
JS – John Smith – Director, The Accountancy Recruitment Group
SD – Simon Davidson – Owner, RP Davidson Cheese Factor
AG – Alison Gibson – Connecting the University of Derby with its local community, Derbyshire Voluntary Action
KA – Katie Ash – Director, Banner Jones Solicitors
MS – Matthew Southgate – Economic Development Team, Chesterfield Borough Council
CH – Chris Hobson – Director of Policy and External Affairs, East Midlands Chamber (Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire)
EC – Emily Coy – Professional Business Coach, Business Doctors Chesterfield
MC – Professor Marc Cowling – Professor of Business Economics, University of Derby
The hospitality sector has been hit hard by the pandemic. Do you think the measures announced in the Budget were enough or could we do more to get the sector back on its feet?
EC – A reduction in VAT and business rates was welcomed but it does not go far enough. This is a sector that’s been decimated by Covid-19 over the last 12 months. One of the biggest costs in hospitality is staff so I would’ve liked to have seen something in the way of a reduction in employer’s National Insurance. Maybe they could’ve introduced some additional grants too.
MS – Restart grants are available to the sector. There is a £5bn scheme that gives £6,000 to non-essential retailers and up to £18,000 to hospitality businesses.
There’s also been the extension of the furlough scheme up to September with 80% contribution, there will be an employer contribution from July but that is a really welcomed scheme for employers.
CH – I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the hospitality sector apart from this pandemic, so the best way to move forward is to reopen safely. Once we reopen the sector, we can already see the demand is there, so I think people will get out there and spend their money.
PT – I think there will inevitably be some closures but there were too many businesses in the sector.
EC – The hospitality sector will be impacted by the increase in National Minimum Wage.
PT – I do think one of the biggest problems with the sector is that staff are on minimum wage a lot of the time and it’s not enough. In other countries working in a restaurant is seen as a career and a highly skilled role but here, we don’t see it that way.
JS – I think one thing that will come out of the minimum wage increase is businesses will package roles as an apprenticeship and provide limited training and support. I think this needs to be managed really tightly.
SD – It’s a very hard situation we’re in and a wage increase, especially this year, is going to make it harder. I just hope people understand there are going to be increased prices on meals.
How have you found working from home and do you think that is something that will continue going forward?
SD – I think we have definitely learnt a lot from working from home. I think there’s an opportunity there for businesses to use that and develop, change your company to how you think it should run and see what affect that has.
KA – When I first started working from home, I described is as invading my home. I just couldn’t get on with it. I still feel that way to a certain degree, although I have a proper set up and a working space now, I miss the collaboration and the chatter we have in the office. I think we’ve learnt some things about productivity so some meetings will be had via Zoom, but I’m definitely looking forward to getting back in the office full-time.
EC – Working from home is such a personal experience as to whether it works for you. I personally enjoy working from home because there are no children in the house. I’ve got it set up for working and it’s a nice quiet environment. Many other people have been thrown into working from home with a set up that’s just not ergonomically correct to be working at all day and they might even have to be home schooling at the same time. It very much depends what your home set up is like.
AG – I for one am very excited to get back into the office. I miss wandering around the town centre, going into shops and the whole experience.
How can we encourage shoppers away from online and back onto the high street now and in the future?
SD – We really need to try and get that ‘shop local’ buzz back and encourage people to spend their money here.
CH – Retail has been heavily affected by the pandemic however it was changing anyway because of the growth in online sales. One thing that Chesterfield can really focus on now however is creating an experience in the town centre, as online retail can’t compete with that.
MS – The increase in online sales alongside the fact many people will continue to work from home will affect the weekday footfall in the town centre massively. Those that were heading into town to purchase their lunch from local businesses aren’t going to be doing it anymore if they’re not working in the town centre, that spend will be distributed elsewhere.
SD – While we have an online store as well as physical shop in the town centre, we’ve used our social media to try and get people coming back into the town centre. We’ve been promoting other businesses and telling people that it’s safe to come and shop here. We actually came out of the first lockdown doing better than before – I had to take more staff on.
MS – People need a reason to visit the town centre. That’s not just about retail, but around cafés and certainly a strong events programme when, hopefully, social distancing is a distant memory.
KA – I think if we have a good summer like we did last year, it’ll be a real boost for all those businesses that have introduced outdoor seating and a takeaway service.
MS – Work has begun on improving the public realm at Northern Gateway and Elder Way also offers the opportunity for European-style café culture so this will make it a more attractive area for investors.
SD – I know a lot of people that are dying to get back into the town centre and a lot of us are looking forward to seeing the shops reopen. Hopefully we can move forward and become a real destination.
EC –It’s about changing the town centre from utility to leisure and making it all about an experience that people can’t get at home.
MS – We have a very successful Artisan Market in Chesterfield that runs once a month. We need to learn from that and implement some elements of it into the core market.
PT – The market has always been a great opportunity for Chesterfield, and it will continue to be so. If we get could get all the traders in one place it will make it a much busier area in terms of shoppers.
SD – Some of the traders like where they are, and it works for them. It also creates quite a nice flow through the town centre and helps with footfall in different areas. I am quite passionate about the market – I want to see it grow and thrive.
How are you feeling about the country’s recovery over the next 12 months?
JS – I’m really optimistic about the next 12 months. A lot of the businesses I’m speaking to are optimistic as well and talking about recruitment.
PT – I know lots of businesses that are ready to spend and ready to recruit. I think the training market will boom for the next year or two. It’s looking really positive.
KA – We’ve been really resilient as a business and been busier than we ever thought possible. We’re using this as an opportunity to grow and we’re really optimistic about it all.
CH – Once things open up, there will be a bit of a hump to get there but I think we can come back really strong. I think more businesses are up for collaboration now especially with things like office space, so that could be a real positive moving forward.
AG – I’m very positive about it all. I would like people to remember the community support throughout the pandemic. It’s important that people don’t forget what the volunteer sector has done.
EC – I think the mindset in businesses has really changed. A few months ago people couldn’t think past tomorrow, businesses now have the chance to lift their head up for the first time and think beyond 12 months ahead.
MS – I’m really optimistic especially with all the construction work going on in Chesterfield. We’ve got McDonalds at West Bars, new office blocks going up at Chesterfield Waterside and Northern Gateway and progress at PEAK. There is lots to be positive about.
Destination Chesterfield is part funded by contributions from local businesses, Chesterfield Borough Council and the European Regional Development Fund. The project is helping to improve the economic prosperity of the town through a campaign to promote Chesterfield.
The local business community plays a central role in its success by both leading an independent Board of Directors for Destination Chesterfield, as well as businesses pledging their support to become Chesterfield Champions.
For more information about becoming a Chesterfield Champion, visit http://www.chesterfield.co.uk/destination-chesterfield/champions/sign-up/