Welsh firebreak: industry reacts

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Welsh print bosses are expecting to continue operating as normal in the face of the nation’s new ‘firebreak’ lockdown measures, albeit with understandable concerns about the likely impact on some customer groups.

Welsh government: facing a very serious situation as coronavirus has risen rapidly
Welsh government: facing a very serious situation as coronavirus has risen rapidly

The Welsh government announced the measures yesterday. The firebreak lockdown comes into effect at 6pm on Friday 23 October and will run until 9 November.

Pubs, restaurants, hotels, hairdressers and non-essential shops must close because of the measures. There are curbs on indoor and outdoor gatherings.

Richard O’Neill, chief executive at Swansea-based metal decorating specialist Tinmasters, said he was concerned about the lack of certainty about how things would develop over the coming months.

“I think my reaction is mixed. We can see the local new case rate per 100,000 has been increasing since early September and naturally we support measures to bring it back under control,” he said.

“The issue with the circuit breaker approach is that it is just a pause or a ‘reset’, unless something else is altered in two weeks’ time the case rate will start to increase again. We would like more certainty about the next six, nine, 12 months. Is there a balance of measures that will allow a sustainable version of normal life or will we swing from lock down to opening up and back to lock down? It appears to me that across Europe governments are in a similar position and I’m sympathetic to the difficulties of achieving a balance between negative Covid-19 impacts and negative lockdown impacts,” he explained.

Darren Coxon, group managing director at Blackwood magazine printer Pensord, said that his area of South Wales had been under local lockdown for the best part of a month anyway.

“We’ve sort of become used to it. We’ve done an awful lot to accommodate social distancing in the business, and it’s a case of here we go again. From an overarching perspective if it’s going to take pressure off the NHS leading up to Christmas and deeper into the winter, then we have to do it.

“My biggest concern is if we go for a national lockdown it’s the impact on our clients in hospitality, restaurants and leisure who have already suffered quite difficult times.”

The Federation of Small Business has also flagged concerns about the gap in government support for firms affected by the Welsh firebreak, with the new Job Support Scheme not set to come into effect until 2 November.

The Welsh government said it was making nearly £300m available to support businesses that were affected, including £5,000 for those required to close.

“We are facing a very serious situation in Wales as coronavirus has risen rapidly and spread in every part of the nation. The clear advice from our medical and scientific advisers is that a short, sharp firebreak will give us an opportunity to reset and ensure the NHS has the capacity to respond to pandemic, emergency and winter pressures,” the government said. 

Mike Beese, managing director of Pontypridd-based DecTek, said he had decided to focus his energies on what was within his control.

“We are very focused on the today. We can’t plan for the future at the moment. Everything we do is reactive. There doesn’t seem to be any formula to control this pandemic,” he said.

DecTek is known for its domed labels, badges and promo products and has also expanded into wide-format graphics.

“We’ve opened up dialogue with our customer base to see what we can support them with, and we’ve also opened up a dialogue with competitors – more communication and more collaborative. What can we produce for them, and what can they produce for us? We’re building relationships for the future,” Beese added.

He said keeping employees in the loop was also key, with staff encouraged to suggest ideas for how the company might adapt and do things differently.

“Quite a few have come forward and we’ve had some amazing ideas. It’s not just up to the employer to protect their jobs, it’s up to the workers themselves, too.”

Andrew Jones, chairman at magazine printer Stephens & George, added: “As far as we're concerned, even though this new lockdown is coming our manufacturing is allowed to continue and going to work is allowed if people can't work from home.

“I do feel sorry for smaller businesses in Wales, because if people haven't been furloughed already, they can't be furloughed now.”

Print bosses in other areas of the UK are also braced for further restrictions. The stand-off between the government and Manchester mayor Andy Burnham and local leaders in Greater Manchester passed at midday. There was no update on the situation at the time of writing.

Other areas of the UK are also expected to be subject to Tier 3 measures in an attempt to curb local outbreaks.


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