Door pushes cautiously ajar for Britain’s luxury lockdown
Prime Minister Johnson’s broadcast last night offered a glimmer of hope for Britain’s luxury businesses. As widely predicted, it was a sketchy and tentative road-map – less Ordnance survey than rough direction – and even the dates offered, of 1st June for a phased retail re-opening, and early July for some hospitality businesses, were much caveated. Some businesses, notably manufacturing and construction, were “actively encouraged” to get back to work from tomorrow, although as the leader of the opposition pointed out after the broadcast, many employers may well have wished for more notice.
Mr Johnson has made it plain that this is a “conditional plan”, but Walpole members will welcome having even provisional dates to plan for. Luxury retail members have already been putting into place measures for protecting staff and customers in their stores in other countries, and have been able to test the realities of socially distanced luxury retail. A further fortnight will allow members to plan to roll out best practice into their stores on home turf, and make plans for which stores are likely to yield the best returns if opened first. Many of Walpole’s luxury hospitality members will be able to offer the safe, socially distanced environment mentioned by the Prime Minister as a condition for opening in July, and the next six weeks will allow them to look at how that might be implemented.
However, Walpole is concerned that its members in Scotland and the other devolved nations will not be able to follow the same plan – Nicola Sturgeon has said that she believes it to be “catastrophic” for Scotland to change the ‘Stay At Home’ advice and has asked for it not to be deployed north of the border. Scottish whisky manufacturers are no doubt keen to get back to production, and cashmere and textile businesses may ask themselves if this may affect their ability to compete with Italy, where production has already re-started.
There are no easy answers for a country attempting to navigate between the scylla of the virus and the charybdis of lockdown’s economic impact: but even a conditional plan is still a plan. Yesterday’s speech marks an important first step towards getting businesses back to work and towards rebuilding the luxury economy.