2021 hasn’t got off the best of starts. Transmission is too high, hospitals are too busy and too many firms have shut their doors once again.
Covid-19 continues to wreak havoc with daily life as we face further distance from loved ones and more indeterminate limits on our freedoms. That takes its toll, even on the most optimistic among us. Once again we find ourselves pulling together in a time of crisis.
If there’s been one bright spot from the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s our resolve to look after each other. Communities have risen to the challenge by going to astonishing lengths to help friends, relatives and neighbours. Doctors, nurses, teachers, delivery drivers, and retail workers have all kept us going during some very dark days.
As CBI Scotland director, what heartens me most is the way Scottish business has stepped up to support the pushback against the virus. From pivoting operations to meet the ventilator challenge, to donating PPE and food to those in need. And now, when it would be easy for morale to plummet and resolve to falter, business is back to lend a hand.
The roll-out of vaccinations has delivered tangible hopes that an end to the pandemic is near. Yet delivering the volume of jabs needed to protect the populace is a mammoth undertaking – and the intervention of businesses could prove key in accelerating our return to a more normal way of life.
Scottish firms from diverse sectors are offering to help speed up the rollout by loaning manpower and facilities to enable delivery. From supermarkets and football clubs offering facilities as vaccination hubs, to companies enabling their workforce to volunteer en masse, it is a game-changing intervention. For once, jokes about empty trophy rooms offering ample capacity can be quickly brushed aside.
And business contributions to society don’t end with the vaccination effort – others, for example, have donated laptops and other hardware, while waiving charges to ensure children’s learning can continue uninterrupted during lockdown home-schooling.
These are powerful and vital contributions at a time when so many companies are being forced to strain every sinew just to keep their heads above water.
Thanks to this team effort, the finish line is in sight. With a fair wind, vaccinations will hopefully pass a critical tipping point at some time in the Spring. Restrictions will begin to ease, and normal life will slowly resume. For business, that day cannot come quickly enough.
Companies can, however, play a further important part in ensuring that happens as soon as possible. And it is not a big ask. Business leaders simply need to be as flexible as possible to enable their teams to get vaccinated when their turn comes. They should give people the chance to receive their jab as soon as it is offered. The quicker they are protected, the quicker life – and the economy – gets back to normal.
In the intervening period, there’s another vital step that can help us on our journey to increased activity: workplace testing. Scottish companies are clear that they don’t want to take away resources from those that need them, so the publication of a list of private providers that meet strict NHS criteria – as already available in England – would be a helpful step forward.
Despite operating under immense strain for the best part of a year, Scottish firms have shown us all what a powerful force of good they can be in society. The journey to brighter days ahead may be long, but business is committed to helping us get there.
Tracy Black is director of the Confederation of British Industry in Scotland