2020 is a year the likes of which we hope never to see again. We have had to learn new ways of working, if we are able to work at all, and review our businesses to decide whether we need to move in a new direction.

It is at times like this that the Chamber is particularly valuable. We have had an open door (well more correctly an open phone and email box) for Island businesses to seek advice and share their concerns. In turn we have been able to use that information to energetically lobby the Isle of Wight Council, our MP and Central Government through the British Chambers of Commerce. I would particularly thank our CEO, Steven Holbrook, for his tireless efforts to get support for individual cases of hardship.

On the positive side this summer’s weather has been good and the Island has been busy with tourists spending money, and thankfully not bringing the virus with them. We saw virtually no cases of Covid-19 across the peak season. It was an opportunity for many businesses to make up some of the spring and early summer lost revenue. Sadly the virus has taken hold again in the predicted second wave which, this time so far, seems to affecting the north of England more than the south.

And so we find ourselves in lockdown again. At least the 80% furlough scheme is back, there was another opportunity for the self-employed to claim support, and businesses registered for business rates are able to claim a grant through the Council if they have been forced to close. Regrettably the same people fall through the cracks this lockdown as last, but at least this time the Council have a discretionary fund so I would urge anyone affected to pursue that route.

It is possible that we are just about to turn a corner with vaccines, which seem to be effective, being at an advanced stage of testing and there seems to be a realistic possibility of affordable and speedy mass testing.
However looking at the GDP figures from before the latest lockdown, output was still well short of pre-crisis levels and there is little sign of the predicted V shaped recovery. So innovation is the key to moving forward.

We now have to hope that the lockdown reduces the infection rate and we are able to have a relaxation of restrictions, enabling a shortened Christmas shopping period and an opportunity to enjoy Christmas with loved ones.

Finally a reminder that our employer focused helpline services for HR, Legal, Health and Safety, and Tax are still there to provide advice. You don’t have to feel alone when you have a problem, the advisors will do their best to help you chart a way through choppy waters. I have found the Legal service really helpful as I have navigated around the issues of having to cancel holidays and make refunds.

John Allen – President, Isle of Wight Chamber of Commerce

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