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You are not alone

There has to be an alternative to the glass half-full/half-empty analogy.

Every cloud? Lemons/lemonade?

No, nothing quite sums up the rollercoaster ride of the last 14 months than the proverbial – and well-used – glass. The good news this morning is that it is resolutely half-full. More than half-full.

In April the International Monetary Fund predicted that UK growth would be 5.3% this year and 5.1% next year. Bank of England deputy governor Ben Broadbent said the UK would see ‘very rapid growth’ over the next two quarters as people rush to spend the money they have saved during lockdown. Barclays boss Jes Staley was even more bullish, saying ‘we estimate the UK economy will grow at its fastest rate since 1948.’

Meanwhile a trade deal with Australia is expected to be completed by June, and there are suggestions that the deal could pave the way for the UK to join the CPTPP (the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) which includes countries such as Mexico, Japan and Canada as well as Australia.

But now, of course, the glass empties rapidly. As I’m starting the blog (on Tuesday afternoon) there are widespread worries about the ‘Indian variant.’ The UK could find itself back in a tiered system: the final easing of restrictions on June 21st could be delayed. When the pubs re-opened on Monday there was emphatically not a beaming Prime Minister pulling a pint. Caution was very much the watchword.

If the tiered system is re-introduced or – at the very worst – there is another national lockdown then presumably Government support, via the furlough scheme and/or grants, will swing back into action. But irrespective of what happens with the virus, there must come a time when Rishi Sunak says enough is enough.

As we all now know, Government borrowing is at its highest level since the Second World War. According to the ONS it reached £303bn in the year to March – nearly £250bn higher than in the previous year. Borrowing in March was £28bn – the latest month to set an unwelcome record. Borrowing in the year to March was 14.5% of GDP: at the end of the War it was 15.2%.

(An interesting aside – when I started writing this blog more than ten years ago, a million was the default unit of currency. If I was writing about Government borrowing or company valuations, I was talking in millions. If the tech changes over the past ten years – and the pandemic – have done one thing, it’s to push the unit of currency into the billions. Elon Musk was only paid $299m in the first quarter? Pah! Barely worth talking about…)

Sooner or later the Chancellor has to make some attempt to pay this debt back – and he is not going to find money flooding in from Corporation Tax. The pandemic hit profits hard: nearly everyone I speak to is expecting to pay less Corporation Tax for the year just ended.

So at some point Rishi is going to deliver the dread words: ‘Sorry, folks, we can’t do any more. You’re on your own.’

Except, of course, that with The Alternative Board you are never on your own.

Business owners are gradually coming to terms with the ‘new normal.’ And ‘new’ is the operative word. Amazon are taking on 10,000 more staff: many, many good and previously viable businesses are never going to re-open. Some – especially in the hospitality sector – won’t be able to re-open because employees have used the last year to re-think what they want from work and life, decided that ‘security’ is at the top of the list and left the industry.

Hopefully the UK will start to spend – I’ve certainly done my bit by buying some screws to attach some knobs to my son’s newly-painted wardrobe. It seems, though, that I’m in the minority: a report on the BBC on Wednesday morning contradicted Messrs Broadbent and Staley, suggesting that the majority of ‘accidental savers’ are planning to ‘stay prudent’ as lockdown eases.

We’re all going to face new challenges over the next year as the economy recovers: we’re going to need to learn new ways of working, new ways of managing ourselves – and the teams we rely on. As I said in the last post, we have to learn from the last 12 months: we have to take something positive from the pandemic.

In particular we mustn’t slip back to thinking that ‘throw more hours at it’ is the answer. Having quoted the example of HSBC contractor Jonathan Frostick a fortnight ago, this week brought a report from the World Health Organisation. Long working hours are killing 745,000 people a year. ‘Throwing more hours at it’ is almost never the answer – for you, your family or your business.

That’s why TAB’s ‘you are not alone’ message is so important. Whatever problems we all face during the next year, someone round the TAB table will be dealing with it as well – or will have already dealt with it.

…Which takes me right back to the proverbial glass. In some ways it doesn’t matter whether your glass is half-full or half-empty – because we will keep re-filling it for you. Yes, I know the words ‘keep re-filling your glass’ are making some of you lose focus. Stay with me…

That’s our mission. To consistently re-fill your glass. To work with you, your colleagues round the TAB table and our franchisees to make sure that your glass is regularly re-filled with knowledge, support, enthusiasm and inspiration.

So cheers: have a great weekend…

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