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Recovery in the East of England: a more inclusive capitalism

3 December 2020: ICAEW’s East of England Economic Summit brings businesses, non-profits and politicians together to discuss the future of the region.

As we find ourselves on the precipice of 2021, businesses are looking at their prospects for the coming year. And while the first half of next year will bring its own challenges, there are hopes for the first signs of recovery. 

In the East of England, businesses will come together at 8.30am on 8 December to discuss these prospects at ICAEW’s East of England Economic Summit. The conversation will be wide-ranging, incorporating everything from local infrastructure priorities to the implications of Brexit. 

“Skills are going to be a big area of discussion, which links in with a broader discussion around what COVID and Brexit mean for rebalancing the economy of the region,” says Gareth John, ICAEW East Anglia President and host of the summit.

The economic situation in the region is extremely mixed. Its hospitality and tourism industry has been badly affected, as it has been across the country. But there are opportunities for new businesses and industries, such as digital companies, renewable energy and other green industries. What is notable, says Gareth, is that professional services have held up well during the pandemic. 

“The accountancy sector has been a robust industry during all of this. My own business training accountants has been fortunate enough to have weathered it very well. I feel very lucky to have been spared the worst impacts on the pandemic, but I know that is not the experience that everyone has had. I suspect a lot of the professional community will feel, like I do, that now is the time for us to step up to support the parts of our region that have suffered the worst effects.” 

The professional services sector has shown such resilience because businesses have needed extra support to get through 2020. Gareth hopes the Economic Summit will encourage ICAEW members and other professionals in the region to do even more in 2021. 

“We owe it to our local communities, suppliers and young adults to do what we can to help everyone. We need to make sure this is an equitable recovery. At the moment, I fear we are seeing a two-tier economy of those sectors, businesses and localities that haven't been badly affected and those that have suffered catastrophic damage.” 

In particular, Gareth would like to see businesses create opportunities for young people. He welcomes the moves by government to encourage the uptake of apprenticeships and hopes businesses will embrace them.

“The younger generation, who have experienced dislocated education and the loss of early-stage work experience opportunities in areas like hospitality and retail, will potentially experience the kind of career scarring that could hit them hard for many years - decades, possibly. We all need to do our bit to make sure that these young adults who are the future of our businesses benefit from the recovery as it comes. That could be through offering work experience, traineeships or apprenticeships… or even just mock interview practice!”

There are already opportunities for that generation in finance and accountancy. Practices and finance teams are recruiting at the moment, says Gareth. “Recruitment into the finance sector has been as strong as ever, which has been very reassuring in terms of the positive expectations many firms have for business recovery in 2021.”

Whether the end of the Brexit transition period will have an impact on these positive signs is yet to be seen. Businesses in the region haven’t paid it much attention since the pandemic hit in March, but as Gareth points out, “It's hard to even start planning when you don't know what you're planning for.”

In the longer term, however, Gareth believes that the recovery will allow us to do business in a better way. “I think we're going to see a broader move towards a more inclusive capitalism. Whereas in the past, capitalism had been all about focusing on the shareholder and returns on investment, we've all seen in 2020 that relationships with your staff, your customer base and your suppliers are absolutely fundamental to your organisation, and even the local community.”

More details of the East of England Economic Summit are available here.