An ambitious plan to get the economy of Norfolk and Suffolk back on its feet in the wake of Covid-19 has been launched.
It contains an unprecedented package of measures to be delivered by partners locally and nationally to get businesses up and trading again, restore business, consumer and community confidence, and support to those who do lose their jobs.
The pandemic brought the economy to a standstill, with thousands of businesses unable to trade and almost 200,000 workers in the two counties placed on furlough.
Now as the lockdown is eased, a series of interventions are needed to help businesses and individuals hit by the economic impact of the virus.
The Norfolk and Suffolk Economic Recovery Restart Plan will complement local ones being developed at county and district levels and feed into the Government’s national recovery plan.
To read the full Norfolk and Suffolk Economic Recovery Restart Plan and evidence base, click here.
It will be critically important as research by New Anglia LEP has shown that in a worst-case scenario, unemployment in Norfolk and Suffolk could hit 200,000 before the end of the year.
Measures which underpin the plan of action include:
- Advice and finance for businesses. Ensure every business has access to the finance and support they need, delivered through a new alliance of local authorities, New Anglia Growth Hub, business representative organisations and trade bodies.
- Digitisation. A major campaign to support businesses to build their online presence and improve productivity and flexible working through better use of technology.
- Responding to redundancies. A support programme for those being made redundant and help for businesses looking for workers through a new local partnership of businesses and local and national agencies.
- Supply chain. The development of a supply chain matching service to help local companies capitalise on opportunities to sell more goods and services locally.
- Transforming skills. A series of programmes to ensure every individual has the chance to reskill and upskill.
- Visitor economy. A proactive campaign to promote the area as a destination and support businesses in the tourism, hospitality and cultural sectors, as they reopen.
- Infrastructure. Support the construction sector through continued investment in key infrastructure and make the case to Government for accelerated funding for major projects.
More than 100 different organisations and groups and almost 700 individuals contributed to the LEP’s draft plan after it was shared with local authorities, education providers, industry and sector groups, MPs, and other stakeholders.
The plan also has the endorsement of the Chambers of Commerce in both Norfolk and Suffolk and the Federation of Small Businesses.
Doug Field, chair of the LEP, said: “Getting the economy back on its feet will not be achieved by one partner alone or by one strand of investment or actions. The economy is most successful when we work together for the benefit of the people who live, learn and work in Norfolk and Suffolk.
“One size will not fit all, and the plan will need to reflect local circumstances and priorities in different areas. We also need to be agile in our approach, so we can switch from recovery to response mode in the event of further lockdowns or to respond to potential issues caused by the ending of Government support packages.”
New Anglia LEP has been at the forefront of the region’s efforts to combat the economic effect of Covid-19. A £3.5m Business Resilience and Recovery Scheme has been introduced to support short-term business resilience projects and longer-term recovery and diversification projects.
The LEP has also coordinated the production and supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) and promoted job vacancies in key sectors such as food production and health and social care via its website and social media channels.
The Restart phase of the Recovery Plan will cover the immediate 12 months as public spaces and premises are reopened amid social distancing and other public safety guidelines. This will be a ‘live plan’ which is regularly updated to reflect changing circumstances and the latest business intelligence.
It will look at how specific sectors such as tourism, energy and agri-food have been impacted by the pandemic and the skills and employment interventions that are required due to changes to the labour market.
In 2021, the Restart plan will be replaced by a plan to Renew the economy, which builds on the Economic Strategy and Local Industrial Strategy and responds to long-term changes brought about by Covid-19.
Councillor Andrew Proctor, Chair of the Norfolk Public Sector Leaders Group, said: “The last few months have been very hard on local businesses and the LEP’s plan, as the umbrella plan for the County Council and District Councils in Norfolk, is the start of decisive action to get our economy back on its feet.
“Taking this forward is now all about the public and private sectors working together so we can restart and renew our county’s economy and support all our businesses that are its backbone.”
Councillor Matthew Hicks, Chair of the Suffolk Public Sector Leaders Group, said “I know the impact of the pandemic has been felt across every sector and every industry in Suffolk. While the response from the government has been unprecedented, undoubtedly saving tens of thousands of jobs, now is the time for us to come together and lead our region into recovery and beyond.
“I am determined that this pandemic will not hold Suffolk back from re-imagining and achieving our shared future prosperity based on clean, inclusive economic growth. Working together we must recover what has been lost and use this opportunity to build better ways of working and living across the East.”
Chris Sargisson, chief executive of Norfolk Chambers of Commerce, said Coronavirus had had an “unprecedented impact” on the county’s business community. However, with the right collaborative support and advice, businesses had the ability to “be flexible and adaptable to think and do differently”.
“There is a new normal for business and if we work together under a well-managed and resourced economic recovery plan, then I believe we stand the best chance of restarting our economy, saving jobs and putting our many brilliant businesses back on the trajectory of growth,” he said.
John Dugmore, chief executive of Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, said: “Having handled 2,000-plus queries from companies over the last three months or so, Suffolk Chamber has an unique insight into the challenges, prospects and hopes of the county’s business community as we enter the recovery period.
“This plan, and its county and local equivalents, provides a framework within which Suffolk Chamber will be able to help champion the interests of businesses as they go about shaping and being part of a successful and sustainable ‘new’ normal.”
Corrienne Peasgood, Principal Of City College Norwich and New Anglia LEP Board and Skills Advisory panel member, said: “The impact on our economy of the COVID-19 crisis demands a recovery plan which works for everyone, across all sectors, and delivering for every part of the region. The Further Education colleges across Norfolk and Suffolk endorse this Economic Recovery Restart Plan and we’re committed to playing our part in delivering it.
“Education and training, including retraining and upskilling, will be vital in mitigating the impact on individuals, communities and businesses. Further Education can help everyone – from school-leavers to job-seekers – build the skills they need to support our businesses in recovery.”
Claire Cullens, chief executive of Norfolk Community Foundation, said: “From the very beginning of this crisis, our local charities have stepped up and responded to support our most vulnerable communities. However, the impact of the crisis has left many of these organisations financially unstable and fearful of collapse.
“The voluntary sector is embedded across all our communities and will continue to play a critical role in our successful recovery. It is these VCSE organisations that will support the many through personal trauma, as well as helping to build confidence and skills for those trying to navigate a new and changing labour market.
“To rise to these challenges, the VCSE needs support and to work in closer equitable partnerships with both the public and private sector. This Restart plan identifies a clear, tangible way forward to strengthen and develop VCSE resilience. Achieving this will allow us to strengthen our communities from the bottom up.”
Professor Helen Langton, vice-chancellor at the University of Suffolk, said: “It’s important that we are still able to attract students to come to Norfolk and Suffolk, and seeing recovery will be encouraging for them.
“It’s also important because the universities play a vital part in upskilling younger students and more mature students to play their part in helping our economic growth and regeneration more widely.”
Watch our chair Doug Field’s video here