This week sees a bit more easing of the lockdown, with the opening of non-essential shops. This is quite totemic as it represents some semblance to normal life. As shops open, we see again the part of the economy we are most familiar with.
I spent Monday morning chatting to a few traders in Bewdley, on my way back to London. Not all were open, and some were waiting a few days to see how things picked up. Others were enthusiastic to be back, and yet more had worked out how to keep going through the lockdown.
Getting things restarted is no mean feat. The economy has seen a quarter of its value wiped out in the last three months – a completely unprecedented peace-time phenomenon. The government has, to the extent that it can, put the economy in a type of induced coma and coming out of that coma is far more difficult than going in. And for the whole process to have been worthwhile, it is important that we emerge with as little damage as possible.
So, there are some measures the government can still look at, to help things move along. If it turns out that consumer demand is not what we were hoping for, then supplying a short-term giveaway is important. That is why the Chancellor is considering cutting VAT as an emergency, short term measure, to help us all enthusiastically get out and start shopping.
But it is important that we coordinate all this at multiple levels. I am a little concerned that the local council is proposing a removal of the one hour free parking concession. There are some mitigating measures – in Stourport and Bewdley, shoppers are encouraged to use the supermarket car parks, whilst in Bewdley they can claim a rebate on their parking receipt from some nominated traders. But at this tricky stage, I am not sure this is enough. We need everything done to encourage a quick return to normal spending habits, and this at a time when people may have seen significant drop in income over the last few months. Coordinating help between government and councils is vital.
And we need to change the distancing rules, to allow more people into shops. 1 metre is the way forward, especially for the hospitality sector. But my message to all is to do our collective bit to help our local shops and traders.