To understand more about the impact of COVID-19 on our clients and the local Brighton community, we have decided to ask them some questions.

Next up we have Sarah Springford, CEO at Brighton Chamber.

In June, Brighton Chamber and the Economic Partnership jointly held an event to enable businesses to hear about what has been happening behind the scenes to get Brighton up and running. The 100+ attendees heard from Sarah Springford, CEO at Brighton Chamber and the other panelists about plans and challenges ahead as we come out of lockdown.

Brighton Chamber is an independent organisation that provides services to help its members, and the wider business community, to develop and thrive. It’s a not for profit company.

What’s been happening in the small business community?

90%+ of the businesses in Brighton (an estimated 13K) are small and micro businesses with 1-10 employees, and so these businesses are very important to Brighton & Hove.

It’s a mixed picture; some are actually doing okay and haven’t felt the pinch as yet; some trading through at the moment with the help of furloughing money, loans and grants and some have closed or are in hibernation.

We are all watching what will happen with the pandemic and the science (a spike, a vaccine, and if so when?) and asking ourselves how this will affect our customers and our income.

Critically, for many, wondering what will future government support look like? Not only grants and loans, but ways to stimulate and support the economy like incentives to take on employees etc.

Brighton has a strong civic society with around 2300 organisations and 6900 people working in the third sector. These have been going above and beyond during this time and helped us all to help our city.

Of the businesses that I talk with and that are joining the Chamber right now, the overriding mood is one of wanting to get on, wanting to make this work and find a way forward.

While many entrepreneurs and those running businesses are by nature positive, we are all bracing ourselves for the longer-term consequences and expecting a fundamental shift in how we work and run our businesses.

Brighton, Vervate, Blog

Photo: Big Debate: Vervate

What are the hopes and ideas from the business community as we start to come out of lockdown?

Over the last three months we have all been reminded of the value of our networks which are helping us to stay connected, collaborate and do business together; all of which is helping our businesses to survive.

As you would expect some businesses are holding up better than others, and there is considerable concern from some.

The business community is looking to local authorities, the LEPs and our MPs to lobby the government to get the appropriate support for each sector.

Help is needed to support the changes in the way we now need to do business. It’ll need to be wide ranging and include: changes in legislation, business rates and VAT; easier access to finance; increased tending and procurement opportunities; help to open up new markets and more.

What plans are there to help the furloughed people back to work and to create new jobs?

There will need to be incentives and support for those businesses that are coming out of this to create jobs, and a lot of help for people to transition to new jobs, re-train. I can’t emphasise this enough. I think this will come from harnessing the skills and expertise of our universities, colleges, and lots of other organisations including charities.

Brighton Chamber and the Coast to Capital LEP are running weekly sessions with experts to help businesses navigate and use the government support that’s available, and deal with other employment and health and safety issues, as they come out of lockdown.

Brighton is well placed for businesses to access bespoke support because of the number of excellent coaches, HR specialists and employment solicitors, and networks where members share skills freely.

With regards to mental health and wellbeing support for returning to work – we are fortunate in Brighton to have lots of businesses, and charities, that can offer support in Brighton.

How do you see Brighton as an Eco-System bouncing back and what areas do you think will thrive?

Bouncing back will be through supporting each other, and it will come from those businesses that are good noticing where there are opportunities or changes that need to be actioned.

We have seen that where businesses can be flexible and adaptable they will do better. These businesses will be adopting new ways of working: they’ll be looking at more flexible working practices, more collaborating or perhaps new ways of getting the work done like more subcontracting.

People will be starting new businesses – we saw this after 2008, when they couldn’t find suitable jobs. So support programmes to develop entrepreneurs and start-ups will play a key role here and this will be driven locally by organisations like Barclays Eagle Labs, Plus X, Natwest Entrepreneur Accelerator Hub, local authorities, C2C LEP, the universities and others who are currently planning support initiatives.

Thriving sectors will be digital, tech, creative and businesses who can work online and are currently holding up well.

Businesses who can export and whose market can be anywhere (Brighton is in fact one of the strongest UK cities for service exports).

Those with public sector contracts (which are like gold dust right now) have steady work. And while we want to assume these contracts will remain so and grow, none of us know where things will be in 12 months.

Areas where we expect to see growth are e-learning and education, e-commerce, IT, new supply chains for new business opportunities, small scale local produce and food, electric bikes… they’ll be lots of innovations here in Brighton, as we have seen already in the last 10 weeks.

What does the new normal look like to you?

It is a chance to do things differently and as more businesses and their employees start doing that, we’ll see more and more energy coming from the business community. It’s happening already within our food and drink businesses.

For me personally it’s a chance to take stock of what’s important at work and at home and sort out that work life balance.

Author: Sarah Springford, CEO @ Brighton Chamber

Date Published: 24 June 2020