10 May 2020 Business

Covid-19: Little to cheer as lockdown eases

The printing industry has little to look forward to as the Prime Minister announces changes to the lockdown scheme to ease the impact of Covid-19.

There was little for the printing industry to celebrate in the proposals from Prime Minister Boris Johnson for the country to emerge from lockdown.

Speaking last evening the Prime Minister gave the green light for businesses to reopen, though print businesses have not previously been forcibly closed. Indeed the BPIF/Boss report on the status of print under lockdown, 73% of print businesses remain open.

From today, according to the Government, people are now actively encouraged to return to work, something that raised questions about whether the safety of staff could be assured. And one way that has become popular is through extensive use of social distancing signage. “We have been working to establish new guidance for employers to make workplaces Covid secure,” Johnson said.

However, those businesses that are now allowed to open in manufacturing and offices are less likely to stimulate demand for print than those that remain closed – shops, restaurants and events. Provided this first stage of lifting lockdown does not provoke a new wave of infections, some shops will be permitted to open next month.

This should lead to orders for print as the Government should give permission to open to some cafes and restaurants and other parts of the hospitality industry after July.

The staged easing of restrictions will be reversed with any sign of the rate of infection increasing, while the Government will keep a close watch on progress in other countries.

The staged opening will also increase calls for this to be matched by a staged easing of the furlough scheme, perhaps to allow part time working as companies begin to rebuild devastated order books. Details on this and other measures will be made public in the coming days.

The need to gradually ease, rather than end the furlough scheme, was a key finding from the BPIF’s report. The report attracted replies from 245 companies, 55% of which are BPIF members and a further 16% members of Boss.

Regardless of what happens with the furlough, the participants anticipate a permanent reduction in the labour force with 600 redundancies across the sector, around 4% of those employed in the sector. As predictions for the UK economy this year anticipate a 15% shrinkage in GDP, further job losses may be necessary as companies become insolvent or are forced to make further cuts. This consolidation is something that some taking part in the survey believe will become necessary.

Further details will be announced in the coming days about the scheme to quarantine visitors to the country arriving by air. This is likely to affect engineers and trainers from suppliers based outside the UK to install or fix machinery.

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Many businesses have furloughed staff until the lockdown passes. However, there is little sign of this at present with only limited opening of the economy in the immediate future according to the Government.

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