Lockdown - Reflections at the end of week 24

There’s been plenty in the news this week which is not, on the face of it at least, about Covid.

On an international level, we have seen noteworthy stories relating to each of the significant players in the struggle for geopolitical influence and power. To many of us on this side of the Atlantic, the emotional pitch of the presidential campaign in the US, veering as it does from a sentimentality presented in a manner close to Hollywood soft focus to raw-boned aggression continues to be, if not surprising, very striking. Russia’s response to German findings of the further use of Novichok against a political opponent of the current leadership was predictably disingenuous. China has responded to re-emerging stories of human rights violations against its Uighur population with its customary denial.

In the UK, we’ve seen the re-emergence of Brexit as a front page story. Whether we should regard the replacement of Covid by Brexit with a degree of relief or as the recurrence of a briefly forgotten pain is a matter of some conjecture, but it is back because whilst Covid has stopped many things, it hasn’t had the effect of stopping time. The ending of transitional arrangements which is due to take place on 31st December looms ever closer. The government’s courting of Tony Abbott to become an adviser in relation to trade deals is controversial and, to some, smacks of desperation. In the meantime, the logistics industry has collectively written to the government seeking guidance as to exactly what will happen on the 1st January 2021. Watch this space but don’t hold your breath as trade deals have so far proved elusive in spite of the time that has been available to try to conclude them.

We will also see today the ceremonial commencement of work on HS2, a project whose gestation period has been long and painful. It seems likely, given recent examples such as Crossrail, that it will go over time and over budget, but the better news for the time being is the suggestion that the construction phase will create 20,000 jobs.

This week has also seen the return to school. There will be anxieties about this amongst pupils, parents and staff and it’s not going to be as school has previously been experienced by some distance, but nevertheless, it’s happened and feels like a welcome step towards a better normality for many reasons.

Whilst all of these events are not directly Covid related, we can’t get away from Covid’s influence on them. The Trump presidency’s record on Covid appears to be driving a campaign that will talk about anything but Covid. Some commentators are suggesting that the timing of the latest use of Novichok has been driven in part by unrest in Russia over official Covid policy. China’s position in the modern version of the Great Game has been affected by its position as the place where Covid crossed over into the human population. Brexit delays are, in part at least, due to the fact that the world’s governments and the EU have been tackling Covid and the economic impact of widely adopted anti Covid measures. HS2 is being built in a world of relatively empty passenger trains as working from home and meeting by video call remain popular. The return to school would not have been a story without Covid.

All of this leads to the conclusion that, long after a vaccine arrives and infection is no longer a significant issue, the effects of this extraordinary period will be felt in areas ranging from the UK’s public finances to national, regional and global politics with significant social and lifestyle changes thrown into the mix. Many of us are trying to work it out in the context of the future role and health of our businesses on a daily basis - not an easy task given the daily twists and turns and uncertainties. Others will be worried about their employment security and prospects and those of their children. All of which perhaps explains another story which emerged this week, namely that golf club membership is increasing, reversing a decline of many years, as more people are seeing a good walk spoiled as the ideal way to get away from it all.

Enjoy the weekend.

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 on 07979 498817 or iwaine@prettys.co.uk.

Ian Waine
Senior Partner