Claire Christian is a successful businesswoman on the Isle of Man, contributing to the retail offering of high-end affordable fashion, and bespoke womenswear. A long-term veteran of the retail, wholesale, manufacturing and luxury end of the fashion industry such as Burberry, Hardy Amies and Melissa Odabash, Claire returned to the Island seven years ago to establish her brand and independent business. During the Covid 19 Pandemic she has been a crucial conduit for the self-employed, businesses and local government, and has been instrumental shaping the government’s support policies.
AS LOCKDOWN MEASURES ARE EASING, WILL THIS HAVE A POSITIVE EFFECT ON LOCAL JOBS AND BUSINESSES IN THE ISLE OF MAN?
This time last year the impact of Brexit was being felt. Trading was flat and property sales slow, and in those final Brexit months time almost stood still in terms of the economy. Fast forward to the UK general election and post-Brexit confidence in the first quarter of the year was building in most sectors – but they were just recovering, and then the Covid 19 crisis hit us. Perhaps, had Covid 19 arrived in just one more year, businesses would have indeed been in a better position to ride this roller coaster. But the sudden drop in revenue reached every sector of our economy, from cleaners to the highflying lawyers.
This has not just been a health crisis, this has also been a jobs crisis. And some of the most vulnerable sectors have been hit the most. The small to medium businesses, fragile, are now wandering in the dark, waiting for the government to tell them when and how they can return to work. Most businesses have been in lockdown for eight weeks now, and Monday saw the eager anticipation of non-essential retail re-opening. I am one of those non-essential retail owners. I am part of group of 70% of our economic climate here on the Isle of Man. In these eight weeks, I have come to understand that our economy is truly made up of individuals and micro-businesses, all providing a huge source of revenue to our local economy. Paying Taxes, NI, VAT, we are the heart of the local business institution. In the last eight weeks I have heard the stories of people who have had their livelihoods suppressed, creating fear for their future. Few had built up enough savings to weather the storm, and as government support began to reach these far and wide sectors, people scrambled to even put food on the table and pay their bills.
So, as lockdown is eased, will this have a positive impact on saving our jobs and businesses as sectors are released in a phased approach? One thing is for sure, it will not be plain-sailing; people will need to again build confidence in stepping out for ‘non-essential’ reasons, be that shopping for non-essential goods and items, or anything other than the previously permitted daily exercise and food shopping. Staff in non-essential retail will also be nervous as they come back into contact with the public. Morale is low, and naturally some cannot return while this virus is at large. Reassurance, leadership and management of this will be key to sustain the growth we all need. In addition, with a slow return for bars, restaurants and nightclubs, weddings, and events, etc, people’s spending habits will change to reflect this is some areas, such as clothing, fashion and accessories.
Going into the lockdown was far easier to manage than coming out of it. As each day brings us new easing of measures, people are assessing how they handle this new freedom of movement. After eight weeks of being told specifically what is and isn’t permitted, and people need to gain confidence to make their own decisions, based on the environment, context of social distancing and a risk-based approach to their activities while the virus still exists on the Island, (albeit in extremely low numbers). Ultimately, the economy and performance of local businesses will, in the main, only bounce back when consumer confidence returns, and we adjust to the ‘new normal’. People need to regain their ability to make decisions for themselves, but this will only come, ironically, when the government tells them they can do so.
There will be a positive impact over time in most local sectors, however those that thrive on tourism will still struggle and adapt to a more ‘local market’ of short breaks and staycations for residents wanting a getaway while our borders are closed.
Governments must act to create a new economy and more jobs. Everything we do during and after this crisis must be with a strong focus on building a more equal, inclusive and sustainable economy that supports our local businesses so we can be resilient in the face of pandemics, or other global challenges we may face in the future. This cannot happen again. We need an economic pandemic strategy as well as a health pandemic strategy.