Like the rest of the business community, the timber sector is facing unprecedented challenges in the pandemic. It’s key to stay informed and keep communications channels open, says Timber Trade Federation MD Dave Hopkins
The global COVID-19 pandemic is causing more than just a health crisis. Business too has been put on an emergency footing.
Government advice to close non-essential businesses caused confusion among many in the supply chain. While merchants and distributors were exempt, many decided to temporarily close, or to furlough staff and operate core business only, with minimal personnel.
Meanwhile, government advice on construction and manufacturing was and is to remain open, but work within health and safety regulations on physical distancing within the workplace.
This put many of you in an impossible situation: nobody wants to be losing business in this time, yet staff from all members’ businesses will have seen the announcement. They are likely to be under pressure from their families to stay home.
In addition, we had numerous reports of a backlash on social media from members’ customers accusing them of pro_ teering by staying open. This has left many not knowing what to do for the best. Even the biggest merchant names are made up of numerous smaller outlets, all rooted in the local economy and dependent on local custom and goodwill.
TTF advice for members is to act with your head and your heart; if you can continue operations while remaining within government health and safety guidelines – and have consulted with staff about their concerns and the risks this may pose – you should be free to continue. For others, possibly the majority, it may be easier to temporarily close and make use of government support mechanisms.
Now, a task force of 11 trade organisations has been formed by government to deal with construction issues and gain clarity. The CPA is part of this and, as a member, TTF will feed in our views via this route.
It’s clear that, while government support during the crisis has been welcome, there will need to be the same stimulus, if not more, once restrictions are lifted to get the market back on its feet. The economy is likely to go through a V-shaped recession, with a short sharp dip during Q2 followed by a rapid recovery in Q3 and Q4. We need the support to be ready in advance.
For our members, what is most important is to see through your business continuity plan, securing the safety of your employees and the long-term future of your business.
The government has made accessible to businesses various forms of relief, key among them the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme – information about each is available on the TTF website.
Finally, we would like to reiterate the importance of communications with your key stakeholders during this process – suppliers, customers, your own personnel – and where possible please keep us informed. We are doing our best to help wherever we can during this trying time. You can keep in touch with the TTF via Twitter, our COVID-19 response group on LinkedIn, our newsletter, website, and COVID-19 hub.