Those of you that are regular readers of my articles will know that their content is often inspired by something I have recently read or an exchange that has taken place which I’ve been mulling over in my mind for several days afterwards. That was very much the case again, however thanks to a timely phone call from a long-term business associate, you have been spared a tale involving a white shirt, laundry day and a rather unflattering revelation – which I’m not yet quite over - from my wife.
During one of our regular catch ups, my client and I commented that we had both recently read the same article with some interest. The headline – and I paraphrase at this point – claimed that Yorkshire had seen 25 per cent fewer insolvencies in 2020 when compared to 2019. And whilst, at almost any other time, fewer companies going out of business year on year would generally be welcomed by many as a positive, we were both somewhat surprised, considering the year that was in question.
Let’s be under no illusions; 2020 was a year like no other and whilst some sectors found that lockdown restrictions offered them opportunities to grow there were many more that faced – and are still facing - countless struggles and uncertainty which will take months if not years to recover from. So how could it be the case that during the most unprecedented 12-month period for businesses ever, more somehow managed to survive when compared to the previous year?
Without wishing to get political, one of the suggestions that came from our conversation was that the Government support packages have done what they set out to achieve and – whilst not perfect, with many firms and individuals falling through the cracks- these were in the most part, widely available and quickly implemented, particularly if you consider the furlough scheme. But have they been too generous in some instances? Certainly if we were looking at the number of businesses that didn’t survive being on a par with the previous year – or even slightly higher – you could conclude that the support offered had been about right as the number of casualties showed no real differences and the equilibrium maintained.
However, and whilst I certainly don’t begrudge them their survival, are we potentially facing a situation where businesses have survived because of the support they have received and in any ‘normal’ year, when such packages would not have been in place, they would have found themselves without a future?
What would be the downside to this? Jobs have been protected and businesses have survived to see another day. But in doing so, does this hamper the ability of companies to recover overall?
Take any ‘normal’ year, not all businesses survive, and the stronger operations would move into the space they vacate and take advantage of the resulting opportunities in order to grow and invest. Jobs are created, expansion takes place and so on and so forth. However, what we could now see is an artificially false competition – businesses which in any other year would not have survived, have been given a reprieve and are now fighting for their lives and, in doing so, may potentially be prepared to lower their costs way below the rest of the market making the route to recovery for a far greater number of operations a much more drawn out and difficult journey to travel.
As we tentatively ease our way out of lockdown, hopefully for the final time, it remains to be seen if the support that has been so heavily invested – currently to the tune of upwards of £280billion and counting – has indeed ensured the country can recover as quickly and as painlessly as possible or if, for some, it has simply delayed the inevitable and once that support is withdrawn, they find they are unable to survive. The question remains, will their prolonged existence have far reaching consequences for companies on the next rung up the survival ladder from which they may struggle to overcome?
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