Lockdown – Reflections at the end of week 43

When the warnings of the second wave of Covid were being given in the late summer and autumn, it was hard to visualise what it would be like, especially since the new variants had not yet come into view. But now we know, with hospitals overwhelmed, patients being moved out to care homes and hotels trying to make room for those in need of acute care and others being moved large distances, for example, from London to Newcastle, for treatment. It’s dark and cold with flood warnings and those of us who are in the fortunate position of not needing that care are substantially confined to barracks with, for many, the resumption of the role of a part-time teacher. Whilst we have to take care, not only for ourselves but for others too, and the situation feels pretty grim right now, there are grounds for optimism. Before you think I’ve taken leave of my senses, here they are:

  1. The vaccine is being rolled out with notable speed. There are regional variations, with East Anglia, not untypically when it comes to the delivery of national programmes, lagging behind most other regions, and there are unhelpful and false reports circulating about the vaccine which may impair take up in some communities. However, the overall rate of progress is strong;
  2. The infection rate, whilst still horribly high, is showing signs of dropping;
  3. It is disappointing that the government has yet again shown a lack of understanding of the economic pressures experienced by those on low or no wages in this week’s mishandling of free school meals. On the other hand, hope comes in the form of the ability of Marcus Rashford and others to monitor and pressurise effectively  to relieve  the immediate problem, although I can’t be quite so sure that the government will properly take on board the underlying message about the position of the less well off;
  4. Whist some sectors of the economy continue to struggle, others have adapted and are back to at least the levels of activity of the pre-Covid period. The recent announcement of a drop in the UK economy of 2.6% in November is substantially based on a lockdown-induced drop in the service and hospitality sectors but, for example, car manufacture and housebuilding were above pre-Covid levels. This is borne out by the experience of our corporate team where we are seeing demand for business sales and purchases in which the effects of Covid  have been factored into transaction terms with buyers showing confidence in a post-Covid future;
  5. Gavin Williamson is, for reasons that escape many of us, still the Education Secretary, but we’re now used to the shenanigans about what will happen in place of exams. Whilst it is difficult for schools and pupils alike that we’ve had the announcements that results will be by teacher assessment-oh no they won’t, there’ll be some mini exams as well, we’re used to it now and we have the empirical evidence of last year to show that, in spite of it all, we’ll largely be able to get through with the world still turning. Today is, it appears, the hundredth anniversary of the first performance of the sawing a person in half conjuring trick. It’s tried and tested, but you wouldn’t want to be in the box looking up at Mr Williamson with a saw in his hand;
  6. I kept off the subject last week, but with reassuring predictability as to its 11th hour timing (this did involve the EU after all), a Brexit deal was done. Some difficulties have emerged since, including delays at ports, problems with the export of seafood to Europe, empty supermarket shelves in Northern Ireland, the unavailability of certain medicinal cannabis oils which is a serious issue for some with severe epilepsy, the inadvertent omission to roll some of the UK’s third country agreements into the Brexit agreement and the confiscation of truck drivers’ ham sandwiches at the Dutch border. In fairness, the extraordinary complexity of unravelling a relationship of almost 50 years with the EU was bound to leave some loose ends to tidy up after the deal was put into place and there seems to be a willingness on both sides to do the tidy up. Overall, it will surely be proved over the next few years that Brexit with a deal will deliver better results to the UK economy than would have been the case with a no-deal Brexit;
  7. Readers of these musings may have picked up enough hints in them that I’m not an admirer of Mr Trump. He has now achieved the distinction of being the first president to have been impeached twice which could be the start of a process which would prevent any comeback for him. This feels like a good thing for a post-Covid world which will need far-sighted leadership from its principal nations which looks beyond narrow national interest.

I hope that this has been enough to persuade you in these dark days that my reason remains intact, but whether I have or not, please do your best to enjoy the weekend.

Ian Waine
Senior Partner