While the latest COVID lockdown may seem like a setback, the UK can still recover from this pandemic, but we need plan for a post-COVID world. So, despite the huge spending on the COVID response, investment will still be the way forward for the UK’s economic recovery.
Government-led funding on infrastructure will be critical to get the economy moving. There is much to do; as the UK’s spending on building, for example on hospitals and courts, has clearly been insufficient in the last few years. If the move to longer-term home working means a move away from the current focus on cities, there will be much to do to create sufficient infrastructure in rural areas as well as the new transport links required.
For Ground Control, one of the most important areas of investment is in our outdoor spaces. There is a lot that can be done through investment to protect and improve our landscape, and with the lockdowns having bought people closer to nature there is much public support. This resurgence of interest in our outdoor spaces has and will continue to bring new opportunity which we need to capture to counter-balance the potential for a reduction in demand in office and retail spaces.
This investment can also support preparation for our changing climate. 2020 is provisionally the sixth wettest year since 1862 and this winter has seen flooding across the UK. This is a problem that is only going to get worse and there is a lot of work to do to improve the UK’s flood preparedness. Improving our resilience to flooding events through investment in inland water management will be critical to protecting property but can also deliver other environmental benefits, such as new habitats and carbon capture.
For businesses, the recovery must be people and technology-led. For now, rising unemployment has meant the fight for talent has somewhat abated, but in the future flexibility will be required for us to remain attractive employers as the mass home working experiment becomes the norm. It is quite possible that the traditional business structure with layers of management will flatten, and command and control will be less important than communication and empowerment. We need to think about how our people work best, whether that is at home, on-site or in an office or a mixture between. We must empower them to make decisions and support customers in the most effective and efficient ways possible, but also in ways that suits their work/life balance. There remains a shortage of skilled labour in our industry which pre-dates COVID, and businesses need to put training programmes in place to create and support our future workforce.
With home working lasting into the long term, those who have delayed a move to cloud systems will need to make the change quickly. Employees in all sectors and functions have learned how to work remotely using digital communication and collaboration tools and those who are left behind are likely to suffer most in the new competitive environment. At Ground Control, investment into technology has long been at the top of our agenda but we were still just in time in upgrading our communication technology to allow us to continue to serve our customers effectively throughout 2020. We all need to be more prepared for the next shock to our industry or economy.
Above all, investment needs to be focussed on a green recovery. The government has included some measures in grants and tax relief directed towards green development and alternatives but there is more to be done, and spending should be aligned with the UK’s net-zero goal. All investments should be considered in part through the lens of their support of positive environmental outcomes.
The grounds maintenance and landscaping sector has been resilient; in large part because of the nature of the work being outdoors and the ability to social distance, but also through our quick adaption of new procedures that keep people safe. The COVID crisis has made businesses work faster than ever before to adapt to new challenges; businesses and countries who can maintain that sense of urgency will have a huge competitive advantage in the future.