This week has marked the one-year anniversary since the first coronavirus lockdown started on March 23 last year.
So much has changed for so many over the past 12 months, from homeschooling to homeworking to spending months at a time on furlough.
Many in the business community continue to feel the impact daily but the Government’s roadmap out of the pandemic, underpinned by the vaccination programme, is providing light at the end of a very long tunnel.
BusinessLive has asked business leaders in the West Midlands to look into their crystal balls and predict what will happen over the coming year.
Dan Cooper, managing director of digital studio Adaptable, said he expected to see a growth in projects in the housing sector.
“Getting the team back together to collaborate on projects has been something we’ve all missed but, as we have seen the benefit of more focused working from home, we’ll be aiming for the best of both worlds,” he said.
“We’ve seen a massive shift in clients needing to create new offerings in the digital sector, for example customer portals and platforms for those in the housebuilding sector. We expect this growth to continue as companies look to improve remote digital experiences and create new areas of revenue online.”
The Birmingham Post Business Awards are back for 2021 and now open for entries here. The event will be held online only on Tuesday June 15 and will celebrate businesses and individuals across 12 categories including our overall Company of the Year and a special covid award.
The deadline to enter the awards is Monday April 19 and sponsorship opportunities are also now available. Please email [email protected] for details and follow the hashtag #BPBAwards for updates on social media.
The ceremony will be hosted on our new virtual events platform The Awards Room which gives nominees and sponsors the chance to experience real-time networking and hear from speakers.
All of your attendees will be placed together on your own table and you can invite people from outside your group to join you during the event.
Your table will also have private chat, allowing you to communicate with your colleagues during the awards. For more information about our Business Awards and events please visit www.reachplcevents.com.
Carl Potter, managing director of the Birmingham office of property consultancy Avison Young, is cautious about the Government’s path out of the pandemic and economic recovery.
He said: “From a business perspective, the series of stop-start lockdowns have significantly impacted the ability to plan ahead with any level of certainty. The future based on the roadmap back to normality is beginning to look shaky.
“We are more likely to be faced with a long and winding road where 2021 will provide much of the same challenges seen in 2020.
“While there are continued unknowns, things are definitely more positives and the adoption of technology to face the challenges of lockdown have proven to be both resilient and efficient.
“The commercial real estate markets have all reacted differently and trends have accelerated massively but we expect to see a more measured reaction to change over the next 12 months.”
Michele Wilby, chief executive of Colmore BID in Birmingham, said: “Working life has changed and there’s no point pretending otherwise.
“But, while people may start splitting their time more between the office and home, the city is ready with open arms to welcome people back.
“There are a whole host of exciting developments taking place, from increased pedestrianisation on Cornwall Street and Colmore Row, to the long-awaited opening of the Grand Hotel.
“These developments will continue to build, culminating with the Commonwealth Games next summer, where the world’s eyes will be on our city as we celebrate it in all its glory.”
Stephen Morley, president of the West Bromwich-based Confederation of British Metalforming, said the manufacturing sector needed the Government to give it the playing field to trade its way back to some form of normality.
“The extension of the furlough scheme has moved the major cliff edge that business and its employees were facing and we hope it will be enough to protect a good proportion of jobs going forward,” he said.
“Repayment terms for the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loans need to be extended and we need the Government to support trade credit insurance past the initial June deadline.
“All of this will allow sales to recover and supply chains to begin functioning smoothly again. While there are plenty of Brexit-related challenges to contend with, there are also a lot of opportunities.
“Our members have noted a new appetite to reshore and we seem to be laying the infrastructure required to lead the electrification race in transport and other technologies.”
Javan Bramhall, founder of Birmingham PR agency Digital Glue, said: “What will the next 12 months look like? Not a clue.. You would have to be a madman to try to predict the next year after what we’ve just had.
“For marketeers, it is likely to be an acceleration of the inexorable race towards digital insight providing real ways to connect with customers.
“During the pandemic, we’ve seen the brands which had already invested in digital reap the rewards and those that hadn’t playing catch up.
“In real terms, this looks like increased competition in digital advertising and, while audiences will be hungry for real experiences, hesitancy, possible further restrictions and a changing workplace environment will mean digital communication will rule 2021.”
Tim Pile, chairman of business body Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership, said the pandemic had had a “profound impact” on the region.
“Our strengths in many key sectors such as advanced manufacturing and retail, our track record on innovation and start-ups and our outstanding performance in exporting are the ones that helped drive our incredible economic growth before the pandemic,”he said.
“But they are also part of what has made us especially vulnerable to the impacts of covid-19 and the EU exit. It is these very same characteristics of our economy which will turn out to be the greatest drivers of recovery over the next 12 months.
“Over the next year, we will be looking at how we can reimagine and reinvigorate our town and district centres as part of covid-19 recovery.”
Nathan Dennis is director of Birmingham-based Legacy Consultants and specialises in developing BAME stakeholder engagement.
He says he is “quietly excited and intrigued” to see how many of the businesses that made race and diversity statements in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement will develop plans.
“This will be a test of the integrity of our local business community and I’m hopeful that, as the media attention fades away, they will continue to act on the promises they made,” he said.
“It’s a hugely exciting time for our city and I am also hopeful that major developments such as HS2 and the Commonwealth Games will provide real benefits for everyone in Birmingham. This is a golden chance to genuinely refresh and revitalise our local communities.
“I would like to think that the next 12 months will deliver prosperity and opportunity to people in parts of our city that have for too long been left behind.”
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Stephen Mitchell, director of apprentices and technical training at manufacturing trade body Make UK, said a key issue was ensuring the sector continued to invest in the skills of the next generation.
“What we would say to manufacturers is don’t be afraid to look at the skills of your workforce and enhance them,” he said.
“Our young people are some of those most affected by the pandemic and the subsequent economic conditions; we must do all we can to provide them with the right support.”
David Pardoe, head of marketing, retail and tenant engagement at the Mailbox in Birmingham, said: “Although 2020 introduced many consumers to the convenience of online shopping, there has been a noticeable absence of human connection and experiences that are important on a social and psychological level.
“Research has shown that consumers have found trips to shops and supermarkets instrumental in combating isolation and loneliness during the pandemic.
“We expect to see a strong return over the year ahead as people enjoy their leisure time with visits to stores, restaurants and other entertainment venues.
“With uncertainty remaining around international travel, there is a real opportunity for Birmingham to come together collaboratively to welcome domestic visitors and show off all that the city has to offer, especially ahead of the Commonwealth Games.
“Office spaces that provide flexibility and a focus on additional leisure and wellbeing benefits for employees will be increasingly important.”
Nella Share, commercial director at Black Country agency MET Recruitment, said furlough was still playing a major role in the movement of people and jobs and the market was very “applicant rich but candidate poor”, creating a skills shortage.
“This means that, while there is more confidence in the market, there is a hybrid of control between the hirer and the applicant,” she said.
“Temporary recruitment has made a much quicker recovery and, reassuringly, we are now seeing a gradual rise in permanent vacancies, hopefully paving the way for a bit of a boom in the final quarters of this year.
“We have definitely seen the acceleration of digital technology in our sector as a result of covid-19 and this is only going to grow as we all begin to make sense of the new normal.
“Video CVs in particular are growing in importance and we believe, in many cases, will replace the age-old paper versions.”
Steve Allen, head of the Birmingham office of law firm Mills & Reeve and president of Greater Birmingham Chamber, said he expected the roadmap to play out as planned providing we avoided a third wave from Europe.
“However, I suspect that stricter rules will be enforced with regard to travelling abroad and as such, I don’t see foreign travel being allowed until much later than the planned review in May,” he said.
“Despite the fact that people are now used to working from home, I sense an element of fatigue and a desire for people to interact with others back at the office.
“We will no doubt see a gradual return from the end of June however the new normal is likely to be a split between home and office, as well as occupiers taking fewer floors but larger floorplates to promote more collaborative spaces.”
John Maude, chairman of the Midlands and East regional board at NatWest, said: “Businesses throughout Birmingham and the West Midlands have faced unprecedented challenges over the last year but have shown incredible resilience and determination to succeed.
“We are very mindful of the fact that, as a result of the pandemic, many businesses are focussing on current economic circumstances and we are doing everything we can to support companies through this period.
“But we are also clear that climate change is one of the most important issues we face as an economy regionally and nationally and that we must all start acting now if we are to build a resilient economy for the future.
“This means not just preparing ourselves and our customers for change but also looking at how we can help our customers take advantage of the many opportunities that the transition to a net zero carbon economy will deliver.”
Samantha Rutter, chief executive of Birmingham-based distance learning firm Open Study College, said the current climate had changed the way we studied dramatically.
“Distance learning has always been around but it has become an even more popular choice and, during the past year, often the only choice,” she said.
“We believe the demand will continue, particularly as we become more accustomed to digital solutions and a better work-life balance.
“We also expect people will continue reflecting on their careers and goals, using the events of the past year as an opportunity to develop themselves by upskilling, retraining or following alternative routes to university.”
Ruth Pipkin, managing director of Jewellery Quarter PR agency Rewired, feels the coming year presents both challenges and opportunities in equal measure.
“Despite the Government’s roadmap, there is still a high level of uncertainty around the impact of restrictions lifting post June,” she said.
“Flexibility will continue to be key for marketing and communications strategies and, in particular, in-person events. The great opportunity that has come from the past 12 months has been the accelerated move to embrace digital platforms and the ability to reach wider audiences as a result.
“We’ll continue to see a growth in innovative approaches that marry both in-person and virtual experiences. The tide is now turning towards a return to the office, or at least a hybrid approach, as many employees are missing the sense of community, creativity and wider mentoring and development benefits of face-to-face working.
“I have a feeling Birmingham’s bars and restaurants are going to be buzzing with the city’s business community making up for lost time and I for one can’t wait.”
Brian Cape, chief executive of support services provider SIPS Education, said there had been positives over the past year despite the ups and downs of the pandemic, in particular community cohesion.
“It would be such a shame to lose that amazing spirit in the coming year,” he said.
“We’ve witnessed this at first hand – it’s been great to see how everyone’s pulled together to help each other from food banks to laptops for schools, to checking in on elderly neighbours and buying local. Now is the time to focus on better community links and not go back to the old ways of profiteering at the expense of people and communities.”
Julia Robinson, manager of Southside BID in Birmingham, said the easing of restrictions over the coming weeks could only be good news for hospitality and leisure venues.
“But there is a steep hill ahead,” she warned, “and it won’t be an easy road to recovery.
“Many are on a knife edge and all support is needed if we are to retain some of our most important and iconic venues over the next 12 months. Outdoor spaces will continue to be hugely important – even with restrictions potentially lifting in June, a sense of safety and awareness of the importance of social distancing will remain.
“There has never been a more important time to invest in creative outdoor spaces and to make the city as safe and welcoming as possible.
“Birmingham is full of pioneering entrepreneurs and SMEs who have battled to survive….if we can support them to navigate the coming months, there is huge potential for Birmingham to rebuild and continue to offer a unique experience.”
Mike Olley, general manager of Westside BID in Birmingham, feels the coming year will be a rich period of reinvention and expansion in the district.
“Some businesses have closed in the recent lockdowns but our strongest bars, restaurants, nightclubs and other hospitality venues will be reopening, welcoming back hundreds of thousands of customers and growing in a safe environment,” he said.
“This will include the new links on the Metro extension, with the wider and cleaner pavements that this will trigger, and improved bus links financed as a result of the city’s Clean Air Zone.
“On the negative side, there will be fewer people working in the area as many will continue basing themselves at home. But at the same time there will be more people starting to live in Westside as various new residential projects are completed.
“The overall result will be a stronger mix of customers, better transport links and the chance for a great revival of one of the UK’s best entertainment districts.”