There probably isn’t a single person who hasn’t been affected by the challenges of 2020. It’s been a heck of a year.
Rosie Allsopp spoke to Jersey Business’s Chief Operating Officer Alexia McClure to find out how 2020’s been for her.
For the business community this year has been a period of rapid learning and change. Some haven’t survived and for those that have they’ve had to deal with turning on a sixpence to cope with the new normal and whatever lies ahead.
A small but nimble team
As we approach the end of October, there’s every indication that a second COVID wave is underway in the UK and across Europe and after the summer’s reduction in case numbers and the resulting pause and reflection, it’s time to take another deep breath and face what is yet to come.
For the team at Jersey Business, it’s been an incredibly busy year in ways they could never could have expected. Chief Operating Officer Alexia McClure says the small but nimble team has barely paused as it’s dealt with helping businesses across the spectrum to cope.
“It’s been incredibly busy, as I’m sure you can imagine,” she tells me as we chat over Zoom in early September.
“We are set up to help business leaders make good decisions about their business and to accelerate their success. Fundamentally that’s our reason for being and what we are all focused on.
“What I think is really important when we are talking about Jersey Business is the fact that we have an amazing team who are focused on delivering for the business community. Because we wouldn’t have been able to deliver the level of service that we have done over these past few months without the individuals and the vision and the values that we have as a team.
“Covid has been a real curve-ball for everybody so the task for us for the last six months has been really to help businesses to navigate their way through.”
Working with government
Initially that meant coping with the lockdown and all that it entailed. Jersey Business also worked closely with government to help shape appropriate packages of support for the various sectors.
“The immediate March/April/May period was really challenging for everybody, not just for us but for the business community in general because it was such a big and sudden change.
“We pivoted and adapted the way that we operated very quickly so that we were able to work remotely but still respond immediately to support businesses.
“We developed a new area on our website specifically around Covid support so that we could disseminate information rapidly. We were also providing a business phone and email helpline, all of which is still available.
“For the last six months we have been there to help businesses to get through what was a very challenging time. But now we are gradually finding that we are doing more of our ‘usual’ forward-looking activity and developing services and resources that will help businesses plan for a still uncertain future.”
Alexia describes working alongside government to shape the support for the business community, both the financial support and the safe exit guidelines, as a ‘collaborative’ experience.
“One of the things I have been particularly involved with myself is having that intermediary role, understanding what businesses need and also understanding the approach and processes within government so that the best support solutions could be designed and delivered as quickly as possible.
“I would say that government has absolutely recognised that businesses needed to be supported and they needed to be supported very quickly and we have played a really crucial role in shaping that.
“And that has really helped business. We have a set of guidelines for how businesses have operated at each different level of the safe exit framework and we have played that role in terms of liaising with industry and government so that government can write guidelines that are practical for business that also mean everybody is operating safely. That has been a real collaboration.”
The next challenge
Things may be on a more even keel for now for the islands as we approach the year’s end, but before we see 2020 out and welcome whatever 2021 has in store for us, the team at Jersey Business, after spending the year supporting the community get through the Covid crisis, must now cope with Brexit and all it entails.
This time last year it was the only thing on everyone’s mind, business-wise at least. As the House of Commons was prorogued by the Government and wrangling over deal-or-no-deal reached fever-pitch, no-one could have foreseen that life as we know it would be derailed by a pandemic.
And yet, here we are and Brexit is now a matter of weeks away. For the knowledgeable and professional team at Jersey Business it will be all hands to the pumps as they continue to offer confidential advice and support for all sectors of the business community.
It must be difficult to advise businesses on what’s going to happen, I suggest to Alexia, as no-one really knows what’s going to happen. As yet the UK has no deal agreed with the EU, time’s running out and the future is uncertain to say the least.
“I think Brexit has been pushed to the back of people’s minds because Covid has completely taken over. At the moment we are liaising with government to identify the key impacts for business,” she says.
“There are lots nuances to this. If I have a concern, it’s that people have forgotten or they don’t realise the impact it could have on top of everything else, because they’ve been taken up with the Covid crisis.
“The task for us is to try and raise the visibility of what’s going happen and how that’s going to impact on them. Businesses that are importing and exporting really need to be aware of the changes and how these might affect their internal processes and supply chains.”
Is Jersey ready for Brexit, I ask her.
“I think the people, particularly in Customs & Immigration, who are involved in putting the new systems and processes in place are doing the best that they possibly can,” she says.
“What we need to do is make sure that anyone who is going to be impacted by this is up to speed with what’s happening and takes action now so they as prepared as possible. I don’t think anyone would say they are 100% ready but the task is to make them 100%, or as close to, ready by the end of December.”