Lockdown and beyond – reflections at the end of week 76

Whether it’s the product of having had an old fashioned education in which the commitment of facts to memory played an important part regardless of their usefulness (for example, my classmates and I were expected to know about rods, chains and bushels long after they ceased to be used as measurements in everyday life) or just part of how I’m put together, I have been a lifelong gatherer of facts. Sometimes I wish I wasn’t, because my head is full of stuff that’s of no particular use to mankind nor beast outside the confines of general knowledge quizzes. But if I’m in your quiz team, don’t expect me to know much about films after 1990.

Why 1990? Because that’s the year in which child number one was born, going to the cinema seemed too trivial a reason to get a baby sitter in and it became difficult to find an uninterrupted hour and a half or more to watch a film. Having got out of the habit, I haven’t managed to get back into it yet even though my children are all adults. However, and for no particular reason, one non-Disney film which I did get to see was Groundhog Day. Without wanting to spoil it for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of seeing it (and in my view, it is a distinct pleasure), the principal plot device of the film is that when its leading character wakes up, it’s to the same day which he relives time and time again.

All of which is an introduction to a week which has felt like Groundhog Day. Pull back the curtains, and it’s grey out there. Turn the radio on, and it’s Afghanistan, labour shortages and their consequences and Covid and immunisation/booster policy. This is not to belittle the issues. They are all serious and pressing, but the pace of progress in solving any of them has seemed glacial. In the meantime, the business of trading in blame has been brisk.

Given the real fear and jeopardy that the Afghanistan withdrawal has created for many people, the current briefing war about who knew what when and who warned whom about it which is currently going on between the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary feels unseemly and is doing little to resolve the problem. The Prime Minister has been relatively quiet, perhaps because a row between those most directly involved in the situation deflects criticism away from Downing Street. The shortages of labour in a number of sectors is driving not only supply shortages but also loading inflation into the supply chain.  This is bound to surface in, for example, increasing food prices as employers take their own measures to attract and retain the workers they need in a labour market whose flexibility and relative lack of regulation was supported by the freedom of movement of labour that came with EU membership. The government is doggedly sticking to its guns, but you don’t find, for example, an on tap supply of lorry drivers overnight. On Covid, the government is waiting for the verdict of the JCVI, but appears to have awarded itself some time off until that verdict arrives. Taken together, roll back the duvet and there you have, if not Groundhog Day, something which is not, to an observer outside the inner workings of government, far from it.

One prospective change which may be announced next week is the long awaited proposal on social care, but the arguments about that have already started in advance of the announcement. It’s pretty plain that there will be a tax rise, but the argument is about where it will be. Jeremy Hunt has had his say this morning, advocating that there should be, in effect, a new tax to pay for it. The reports of the likely policy, which are too unified in their content for them to have no foundation, are pointing towards a rise in national insurance. How that fits in with a levelling up agenda and applying any additional payment obligation even handedly across age groups remains to be seen.

Away from all of that, there have been some brighter moments. Business confidence has grown according to surveys published this week, and we have holographic Abba to look forward to. I’m not sure that I quite get the concept of the virtual concert performance, but plenty will and it will be fascinating not only how this one gets on but what it proves to be a stepping stone towards for the entertainment industry.

For those of you who are wondering, a rod (also known as a pole or a perch) is 5.5 yards, a chain is 22 yards (which is why a cricket pitch is 22 yards long) and a bushel is, this side of the Atlantic, 8 gallons. I am aware that for those of you who work in metric measurements (what is a yard, I hear you cry), this all seems bonkers, but apart from anything else, it made the setting of tricky maths problems much easier for those who taught us back in the dark ages.

We’re promised some sunshine this weekend which will be lovely to see and is much needed for the grapes for this year’s garage wine production.  Enjoy the weekend whatever you’re doing.

Ian Waine leads Prettys’ Corporate Services Team and has advised on a large number of corporate recovery and corporate restructuring cases over the last 30 years. He can be contacted at 07979 498817 or iwaine@prettys.co.uk.

Ian Waine
Senior Partner