Covid-19 vaccine with syringe

Budget 2021 Speculation: supporting the vaccine rollout and boosting the health and social care sector

The Spring Budget will likely set out what the Autumn Spending Review of last year attempted to achieve: support the health sector in its immediate efforts to reduce the spread of Covid-19 transmission and then help the wider sector recover from the battering of the pandemic.

Another coronavirus wave later, the Budget needs to support the continued roll out of the Covid-19 vaccine and NHS Test and Trace. As it is hoped that the current lockdown is the last, the Budget should lay forward plans to drive improvement across health and social care following on from the pandemic. This imperative given the wide impacts Covid-19 has had on NHS health services and social care.

Measures to prevent the spread of the pandemic have proven costly during the past year. The controversial NHS Test and Trace scheme has seen its budget for 2020-21 grow over time, now standing at £22bn. Despite initial concerns that the system was only having a ‘marginal impact’ in reducing Covid-19 transmission, figures in recent months are more promising. More than three million people were tested during a single week in February and NHS Test and Trace successfully reached 87% of those who received a positive test result, and 93.5% of their contacts.

However, even with this progress, the scheme is far from perfect. Giving evidence to the Science and Technology Committee in early February, Dido Harding, Chair of NHS Test and Trace, said an estimated 20,000 people a day who are asked to isolate were not doing so fully.

With testing and contact tracing expected to be used for the country to come out of lockdown during spring, it seems likely that political focus will once again switch to NHS Test and Trace, with long term commitment to the scheme essential to keep the country out of lockdown.

The roll out of the Covid-19 vaccine will need continued momentum from the Treasury. The Government has already invested over £300m into manufacturing a successful vaccine. This includes securing 100m doses of the Oxford/AstraZenca vaccine and 40m doses of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which are both currently in deployment. However, the emergence of Covid-19 variants across the world could hinder the effectiveness of these vaccines, and new vaccines may need to be developed and deployed in the future.

The Health Secretary suggested earlier this month that new treatments and vaccines would play an important role in turning Covid-19 from a pandemic into another illness that we have to live with, like we do with flu.

Aside from the pandemic response, the upcoming budget must support the wider health sector. With many non-Covid treatments cancelled and delayed over the past few months, the think tank Reform has suggested that 10m patients could be on an NHS waitlist by April 2021.

Large amounts of funding have already been earmarked for NHS services, including a £3bn NHS recovery package announced in the Spending Review last autumn. £1bn of this was allocated to support the NHS in tackling the elective care backlog and support hospitals to cut long waits for treatment by carrying out extra checks, scans and additional operations or procedures.

It is likely that this support will have to be expanded in the upcoming Budget to account for the pressures faced by the health sector in recent months, which saw hospitals severely stretched by unprecedented levels of Covid-19 hospital admissions, almost double the number seen during the first wave in spring 2020.

Cancer Research recently argued the sustained disruption of the pandemic has ‘left a deep rift in cancer care’, with 40,000 fewer people starting cancer treatment across the UK last year. Meanwhile, the British Heart Foundation (BHF) has highlighted that tens of thousands of potentially life-saving operations have been cancelled or delayed during the pandemic. BHF has called for the Chancellor to announce an additional £10bn investment this year to deliver the aims of the NHS Long Term Plan as well as invest in public health programmes.

NHS Providers has appealed for support to tackle the growing and long-term pressures arising from Covid-19, as well as funding to drive forward improvements in patient outcomes, quality and efficiency. Additionally, it has called for the Government to recognise the contribution to the pandemic response from NHS staff over the past year, with a pay rises and a workforce plan.

Social care cannot be forgotten in the upcoming Budget. When the Government published its White Paper on NHS reform earlier this month, it promised to publish separate proposals for social care later this year. It would be encouraging if the Budget could set out some of this essential long-term investment for the sector.

NHS Providers said that this is vital considering the impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on social care. The Association of Directors of Adults Social Services also recently called for wide reform across social care including a commitment to long- term funding.

Vuelio Political clients will receive the Budget Summary on 3 March. 

How to Implement a PR Strategy for A Local Charity

How to Implement a PR Strategy for A Local Charity

This is a guest post from Andre Gwilliam, who specialises in Digital PR and Outreach for Digital marketing agency Spike, based in Leeds/London.

To implement a PR strategy for a local charity, there are several steps which will help ensure you successfully raise awareness of the cause, while also securing good local coverage.

More than ever before, it matters to do good things, not just for your clients, but for those who need it the most. This is one of the values we hold at Spike. This guest post will discuss how you can utilise and apply your skills in public relations to develop a local PR strategy for a charity of your choice.

Selecting a Charity

The first step in your PR strategy is to select a charity that is close to your heart. Consider then how you would like to raise the funds and what it is you actually want to do, which should be the core of your campaign.

Brainstorm, Plan and Motivate One Another
Creating a timeline with deadlines for your PR activity will help you to understand what tasks need completing and by when.

With mental health at the heart of our campaign, we at Spike decided that, throughout December, we would walk 2.5 million steps in 30 days as our fundraising campaign. Quite a feat! We recognised that getting active outdoors is a mood-lifter.

Leeds North and West Food Bank was the charity we selected; they put food on the tables of local families in need.

Building a Localised Media List

A targeted media list will help you achieve increase the chances of securing local PR results. Before diving into which publications will want to share your news, consider the following:

1. Your charity’s focus – it’s not just your audience that matters. Understanding who your charity helps, can give you a greater understanding of news placement opportunities.
2. Utilise the PR and SEO tools at your disposal – whether that’s through media monitoring or SEO tools like Ahrefs. Exploring the previous news your charity has been featured in can help form an important part of the research phase of building your media list.
3. Local news platforms specific to your area – make sure you search for new local placement opportunities in your area. For example, (as we are based in Leeds) the search term ‘raises funds for Leeds charity’, will bring up other publications discussing other local charity campaigns. This can help you build a relevant media list.

Keeping relevance at the forefront of your campaign can help you to achieve better rankings, traffic, engagement and backlinks.

Local Contacts, Media and Micro-publications

Write a press release for local media and micro-publication contacts who discuss relevant charity fundraising stories. Locals often have more readers than national daily publications so covering the basics by attaining a quote from your local charity can support your release and make it more newsworthy.

Your Stories Should Evoke Emotion

Part of your role in PR is to influence how people think and feel about a particular subject. Each time you write a press release and promote this to specific contacts within a particular industry, you are influencing how people think and feel so keep this in mind when writing your release.

Promoting Your Story Across Social Media Platforms

LinkedIn is a fantastic platform in helping you to drive campaign messaging by promoting your fundraising campaign which can support your story. Here at Spike, we believe in an integrated approach to using social media and PR to bolster campaigns as it is a great way to understand audiences. Once you have created your campaign, reaching out to local connections on LinkedIn can help you to share campaign updates and raise further awareness of the good things you are doing.

LinkedIn’s latest story feature, similar to other platforms, allows you to promote daily updates to your followers. You might experience both good and bad days in the campaign, but we believe the good and bad is important to share as it promotes honesty to your audience and shares your journey in a transparent way.

For more on supporting local businesses and organisations, check out previous guest posts from Gallium Ventures managing director and founder Heather Delaney on The Power of Community and White Rose PR director Louise Pinchin on Supporting Local Businesses with Local PR.

DCMS budget

Budget 2021 Speculation: supporting digital growth while saving culture and sport

The effects of Covid have created extensive issues that have decimated the creative sector and it now needs to be supported by the upcoming Budget. However, Covid has also scaled digitalisation across the UK and may prompt Chancellor Rishi Sunak to drive more funding towards the roll out of digital connectivity.

The creative sector is predominantly made up of freelance artists who have been badly affected because of lockdown measures. Many freelancers have been unable to find work due to cancellations of events, with some forced to retrain to find employment.

There have also been stark criticisms directed towards the Government as the Self Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) did not cover those with jobs that involve moving from freelance contract to freelance contract on a short-term basis. This includes many people who work in creative industries, such as musicians. The Treasury Committee’s third report on the economic impact of coronavirus: ‘Gaps in Support and Economic Analysis’ stated that ‘ONS data indicates that 3% of all self-employed in the UK have become self-employed since April 2019, which, roughly estimated, suggests that around 150,000 newly self-employed are unlikely to be eligible for support under the SEISS.’

It is therefore essential that the upcoming spring Budget tackles this issue and in the words of Mel Stride MP: ‘the Chancellor must not forget those who have fallen through the gaps around previous support packages and must provide the necessary workforce support measures and economic plan for the self-employed.’

Another issue within the creative sector has been the complete cancellation of festivals and gigs. The flagship economic study by UK Music by Numbers revealed that before COVID-19, the UK music industry contributed £5.8bn to the UK economy, with live music making up £1.3bn of this and contributing to the employment of 34,000 people. As all these events were cancelled last year, this left a huge financial gap in takings for the industry, and prospects for events to go ahead this year look increasingly unlikely.

In a recent DCMS Committee evidence session, which focused on the future of UK music festivals, witness Sacha Lord, co-founder of Parklife and The Warehouse Project, spoke about necessary Government intervention that is needed for events to restart and go ahead this year, including the need for a Government-backed Coronavirus cancellation insurance scheme, an extension to the VAT rate reduction on tickets carrying on at 5% for the next three years, extension on business rate reliefs, and a ‘more nuanced, specified furlough scheme for specific industries, for festivals’ until events are fully running with 100% capacity.

These are all measures that could be introduced in some capacity in the upcoming Budget.

Committee chair Julian Knight has also called for the Government to address these issues, where he has emphasised the need to introduce a Government-backed Coronavirus cancellation insurance scheme, saying: ‘Insurance must be the first step in unlocking the huge contribution that festivals make to our economy, protecting not only the supply chains, but the musicians who rely on them for work’, and that ‘the industry says that without Government-backed insurance, many festivals and live music events just won’t happen because organisers can’t risk getting their fingers burnt for a second year.’

The upcoming spring budget provides the Government with the perfect opportunity to introduce this much needed measure.

Both of these issues have been highlighted by the Creative Industries Federation, which has set priorities it expects from the upcoming spring budget that include: extending the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme for as long as restrictions on work remain, urgently plugging the gaps in support for freelancers, extending the Job Retention Scheme, temporary business loans, grants and rate reliefs across all UK nations for as long as restrictions remain, introducing a Government-backed insurance scheme for live events, extending the VAT rate reduction on tickets beyond March 2021 and repurposing the Tradeshow Access Programme to support virtual, not just physical, events.

It also expects the Budget to reevaluate and boost funding towards digital connectivity, especially as COVID-19 emphasised the need to boost digital connectivity. The pandemic has forced the workforce towards remote working and has digitalised many aspects of society.

Focusing on digital connectivity, it is widely expected that the upcoming budget will replace the current Rural Gigabit Connectivity Programme (RGC), which is due to end by 31 March 2021, with a new progamme and fresh funding.

The RGC was launched in 2019 and focused on helping properties in rural locations to access faster broadband. A main part of this was a voucher scheme that, as defined by Building Digital UK, allowed ‘community and small to medium sized businesses to aggregate vouchers together in group schemes to fund the cost of gigabit-capable broadband to their community.’

DCMS has reported that an independent review revealed that ‘The £2.6bn Government scheme to roll out superfast broadband to ‘commercially unviable’ parts of the UK sparked a surge in home values of up to £3,500, according to a new report, and more than 96% of homes and businesses can now access superfast broadband.’

It is expected that a successor programme will be introduced to continue progess on the Government’s £5bn UK Gigabit Broadband Programme, which aims to provide ‘gigabit-capable’ network coverage to a minimum of 85% of society by the end of 2025. DCMS also recently published the Planning for Gigabit Delivery in 2021 report, in which it stated that ‘following the success of the Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme, we’re keen that we continue voucher-supported delivery during 2021’, and ‘the voucher team will continue to work with suppliers and communities to transition smoothly from the current to the new voucher.’ The question remains of how much funding will be made available for the new voucher, expected to be announced in next week’s budget.

The closures of gyms and leisure centers because of COVID-19 has become a worrying issue that also needs to be addressed. This issue has been highlighted by Rebecca Passmore, the managing director of PureGym, at a DCMS committee oral evidence session. She said: ‘Gyms have had no income for 34 of the last 54 weeks, we have had no revenue coming in. We haven’t been able to do click-and-collect or takeaways. It’s clearly taking its toll on operators. Balance sheets are being pushed to their limits.’

The Guardian reports the measures representatives from gyms and leisure centers are seeking from the Government to help them recover and survive from the effects of coronavirus. The Budget could include these measures, which ask the Government to apply ‘the same VAT rules to the physical active sector as it does the hospitality industry, which has had to pay the Government only 5% of the 20% VAT it has collected in lockdown’, and calls for the Government to ‘extend the rent holiday and to also legislate so that the burden of rent was shared between landlord and tenants during the lockdown.’

The BBC has also reported that ‘A coalition of athletes, celebrities and health bodies have written to the prime minister asking for the “fullest possible support” to help sports and exercise facilities survive the pandemic.’ Overall, there is a clear need and expectation that the upcoming budget will outline plans and funding towards the survival and recovery of gym and leisure centers.

It is clear that digital, cultural and sport sectors are among the most adversely affected by COVID-19 and the upcoming budget is expected to outline plans to resolve these issues, and support Covid recovery and job protection. At the same time, the acceleration of digitalsation within the UK because of COVID-19 could see accelerated measures introduced to boost digital connectivity.

Vuelio Political clients will receive the Budget Summary on 3 March. 

Budget 2021 education predictions

Budget 2021 Speculation: the education and skills crisis

According to the Institute for Government, the upcoming Budget will focus on the Treasury’s ‘Plan for Growth’, although growth may be a little hard to envisage while the UK remains in lockdown and unemployment rises. However, it safe to assume, even in ‘the new normal’, that much of the Budget this year will focus on protecting jobs and promoting skills.

According to IPPR, half a million employers are at risk of bankruptcy once job support schemes close, together employing approximately nine million people. Labour is joined by a plethora of voices calling for Chancellor Rishi Sunak to announce an extension to the furlough scheme, due to end in April, to prevent more large-scale job losses.

Despite emerging data on the positive impact of the UK’s vaccine roll-out on transmission and severity of illness,  2021 will undoubtedly pose another challenging year for the labour market. It is therefore essential that Sunak sets out how crisis support will meet the winding down of restrictions.  Another furlough extension does seem quite likely, given that the last extension was granted before the current lockdown was announced.

The Government already set out a plan for jobs last summer, with a number of schemes to incentivise businesses to take on apprentices or to support individuals to upskill in order to find work, so one could assume these bases have already been covered. However, the Lifetime Skills Guarantee won’t come in until April this year, with the further education sector already voicing concerns about the probability of its success. These worries join concerns about the uptake of incentives like Kickstart, despite the Education and Skills Funding Agency recently sharing how employers are benefitting from the scheme.

At a time when young people are struggling the most to gain and maintain paid work, it is essential that job support is offered where it is needed, and that schemes for job creation are changed quickly if found to be ineffective. Such changes have been suggested by the Institute of Fiscal Studies, who support an extension to the Kickstart Scheme beyond 2021. A strong focus on jobs is therefore essential if the Government is to deliver on the mantra of ‘building back better’ from the pandemic.

One way to do this is to keep the commitment to raising the minimum wage in April, which would go some way to addressing the low pay of keyworkers we have all relied on over the course of the last year. However, as the Learning and Work Institute argues, this must be part of a broader package of ‘good work’ practices to reduce job poverty and improve standards in the UK.

Another obvious and immediate need is for a well-resourced catch-up programme for children who have now been learning from home on and off for a year, with a devastating impact on education across the board. Anyone who regularly listens to Prime Minister’s Questions will have heard Prime Minister Boris Johnson say that remedying the damage to children’s education is a focus for the Government.

Large amounts of funding have already been allocated for tutoring, catch-up and digital access, although there is further discussion on how best to implement catch up. This funding has recently been supplemented with a further £300m, in light of the delay to reopening schools. However, there are reports that even this amount will not cover the damage, and that schools per pupil funding has fallen in real terms this year to below what it was in 2010-11 due to the pandemic. Despite this, it seems unlikely that more catch-up support will be offered in this years’ Budget although it would be welcome.

Yet to be addressed (depending on who you ask) is the need for an equivalent catch up programme for the early years sector, requested by The Sutton Trust last year. Crucial to educational attainment and even job prospects later down the line, lost access to high quality early education either through choice or forced closure is already having an impact on school readiness. But as Fleur Anderson MP recently pointed out in a session of the Education Select Committee, with ministers Nick Gibb and Vicky Ford, there has been no catch-up programme for the early years. Ford, the Minister for Children and Families, said this was due to providers staying open in lockdown while schools had to close. This has not stopped Labour’s Shadow Minister for Children and Early Years Tulip Siddiq asking the Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson what discussion on a long-term funding settlement for maintained nursery schools he has had with the Chancellor.

The Budget this year is likely to feature heavily on job support and creation, as the job market continues to be impacted by restrictions caused by the pandemic. Although it is clear the Government will have to prioritise certain areas of support after an incredibly difficult year, the consequences of inadequate funding for education and the early years sector has the potential to push another crisis further down the line.

Vuelio Political clients will receive the Budget Summary on 3 March. 

Green recovery budget 2021

Budget 2021 Speculation: How might Rishi Sunak deliver a green recovery?

Much has changed since Chancellor Rishi Sunak delivered his last Budget almost a year ago, but one thing which hasn’t is the need to tackle climate change and to protect the environment, both in the UK and internationally.

When the Treasury announced that 2021’s Budget would be on 3 March, it said that it would ‘set out the next phase of the plan to tackle the virus and protect jobs’. As the widespread calls, both from within the Government and from a wide variety of interested parties, to ‘build back better’ and deliver a ‘green recovery’ show, these two aims can be delivered in parallel.

So far, the Government has released some of the building blocks to inform and help deliver these aims. We’ve had the Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, the National Infrastructure Strategy, the Energy White Paper, the interim report of the Treasury’s Net Zero Review and the Dasguta Review on the Economics of Biodiversity. More strategies are promised, digging into some of the toughest areas of decarbonisation: heating, transport, energy-intensive industries. With the UK hosting COP26, the UN’s climate change conference, this year, the Government will want to show that it is leading by example.

But to deliver on these strategies, the Chancellor will need to pull some of the levers at his disposal. To look at it in the most simplistic way, the Government has two ways of doing this: spending and tax. Sunak could announce investment in technologies and projects to deliver a ‘green recovery’ or changes in taxes to incentivise others to do so, such as new reliefs. Equally, he could announce increases or adjustments to taxes to penalise those responsible for emissions and environmental damage, embracing the ‘polluter pays’ principle.

One tax which could rise is fuel duty. The Daily Telegraph recently reported that Conservative backbenchers believed that an increase is ‘inevitable’. A ‘Northern Tory’ told the paper that ‘the Government can wrap itself up in the green cloak of COP26 and the British public might not love it, but they will stomach it’. However, ending the decade-long freeze would not be without political problems. The Sun, which strongly backed the freeze, has already mobilised against the change, enlisting backbenchers Robert Halfon, who said ‘a fuel duty increase would level down – far from building back better and would damage the foundations of economic recovery’, and Craig Mackinlay, who claimed it would be ‘bad for the economy, bad for business and bad for jobs’.

The Times has reported that the Government has been considering options for new carbon taxes, with departments ordered to set ‘prices’ for emissions from all parts of the economy as part of a plan to ‘implement some form of carbon pricing’ in the next decade. This would form part of a strategy to ‘deliver a carbon price for the whole economy’ ahead of COP26. However, this plan has been blocked by Boris Johnson according to the Daily Mail.

BDO suggests that further changes to taxes linked to climate and the environment could be announced, such as capital allowances ‘that support the Government’s carbon reduction agenda’, new taxes on more single-use items such as coffee cups, or higher VAT rates for ‘environmentally damaging goods and services’.

If the Government is minded to go down this route, it would do well to examine the findings of a recent National Audit Office report that concluded the Treasury and HMRC ‘tend to focus more on the revenue that environmental taxes raise rather than the environmental impact they achieve’ and ‘do little’ to identify measures ‘which impact on Government’s wider environmental objectives but which are not recognised as environmental in nature’. If the Government wants to use the tax system to incentivise environmentally beneficial behaviour and penalise irresponsible activity, it needs to be sure that it’s doing so in an effective way.

Of course, another way in which the Government can act is for Rishi Sunak to produce the national chequebook. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies notes, ‘we need a plan for measures that increase the productive capacity of the economy and help steer and ease the transition to a new normal’ which should include ‘investments in physical and digital infrastructure, training, and science’ to help ‘achieve goals such as reaching Net Zero by 2050’.

The use of Government investment to deliver this green recovery is being advocated by business and unions. The TUC is continuing to push its plan to create 1.24m jobs in green infrastructure by bringing forward at least £85bn of infrastructure investment. This would see investment across a range of industries, including energy, land, buildings, transport, waste, manufacturing and digital, delivering a range of positive outcomes both for the environment and the economy.

The CBI has recommended that the Government commit to deliver seven more gigafactories by 2040 (these build batteries for electric vehicles), ensure that private sector investment is crowded-in by the new National Infrastructure Bank and invest in sustainable aviation fuels, as well as introduce reliefs for businesses which invest in property and machinery energy efficiency.

The Institute for Directors has advocated the creation of a ‘new digital and green Recovery Credit incentive for SMEs’, helping to support their investment in digital and green technologies, noting that at the moment British small businesses ‘tend to lag peer nations when it comes to adopting best practice’. It also wants a ‘retraining Recovery Credit incentive for SMEs’, which would especially focus on digital and green skills.

One area to particularly watch out for will be the future of the Green Homes Grants. Launched with much fanfare by Sunak as part of his Plan for Jobs last summer, recent news has not been encouraging. The grants were advertised as being worth £2bn, allowing homeowners and landlords to apply for vouchers for energy efficiency improvements. However, 95% of the £1.5bn for householders has not been spent and, while the grants have been extended until March 2022, the funding is not being rolled over to the next financial year. Instead, £320m will be available from March – a much smaller sum.

Shadow Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Ed Miliband said that the Government was ‘denying homeowners the energy improvements they need, denying installers the work they need and denying the country the green transition we need.’ The Government blamed the low take-up on ‘an understandable reluctance on the part of the public to welcome tradespeople into their homes.’ If Sunak does want to revisit the design or funding of the scheme, the Budget would be a good opportunity.

With so much happening in the environmental and climate policy landscape in 2021 – including another budget, the UK’s Sixth Carbon Budget – it would be a missed opportunity if the Chancellor didn’t take the Budget as an opportunity to ensure that the Government’s tax and spending decisions were in line with its ambitious climate ambitions.

Vuelio Political clients will receive the Budget Summary on 3 March. 

Weekly Health Summary

Covid-19: Weekly Health Summary – 18 February

The Health Summary is part of our Weekly COVID-19 Bulletin, sent every Thursday. You can sign up to receive your copy here.

Last weekend, the Government hit its target of offering the Covid-19 vaccine to the top four priority groups: all elderly care home residents and their carers; everyone over 70; all frontline health and social care workers; and everyone with a condition that makes them extremely vulnerable to the virus. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called the news an ‘unprecedented national achievement,’ highlighting that 90% of over 70s took up their offer for a vaccine.

Reaching the target has meant that the vaccines delivery programme entered a new phase this week, with the roll out extended to people aged 65 to 69 and those who are clinically vulnerable against Covid-19.

NHS England and Improvement has indicated that GP led vaccination sites will focus initially on the clinically vulnerable to ensure continuity of care. NHS Confederation’s Primary Care Network Director Ruth Rankine has welcomed this approach, she said: ‘Working as part of an integrated system, primary care is best placed to offer vaccinations to clinically extremely vulnerable people. Primary care services are at the heart of communities and have already found ways to improve access through targeted public information and local engagement.’

Over the weekend, the Government published a Vaccination Uptake Plan to further enforce the roll of community- led engagement in vaccine distribution. The plan aims to make the vaccine more accessible including to ethnic minorities and those with disabilities. It has been welcomed by NHS Providers, which has noticed that vaccine uptake is lower in certain groups, including a reluctance among BAME NHS staff. Chief executive Chris Hopson said that NHS Trust leaders will welcome strengthened collaboration between the Government, charities and health organisations to build upon ‘successful local initiatives and innovations, so that disparities can be eliminated.’

A further 1.7m people are expected to be added to the shielding list and will prioritised for the Covid-19 vaccine. It follows a new model that was developed to consider extra factors including, ethnicity, deprivation and weight. Runnymede Trust called the news a ‘watershed movement, signally a recognition that class and race impacts your vulnerability to Covid-19’.

According to latest figures from the REACT-1 community surveillance study, Covid-19 infections have fallen by more than two-thirds since the start of February. Although infection levels remain high, these latest findings indicate that lockdown restrictions have had an impact on reducing infections across the country. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘These findings show encouraging signs infections are now heading in the right direction across the country, but we must not drop our guard. Cases and hospital admissions remain high – over 20,000 COVID-19 patients are in hospital – so it is vital we all remain vigilant and follow the rules as our vaccination rollout continues at pace.’

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee held an evidence session on easing lockdown measures in England on Wednesday. Here, it was suggested by Mark Woolhouse, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, that the country could potentially begin to ease out of lockdown earlier than it did the first-time round because of promising data on Covid-19 transmission.

He also praised the high take up of vaccinations, highlighting that the vaccine roll out has reduced transmission. On the other hand, the Government’s deputy chief scientific adviser, Professor Angela McLean, struck a more cautious argument and said that is vital that lockdown measures are reduced in line with the rollout of vaccines.

NHS Providers said four tests must be met before lockdown restrictions can be reduced. Firstly, Covid-19 infections should be around 1,000 a day; NHS capacity must be high enough to treat all patients; the vaccination campaign should be sufficiently advanced and, finally, an effective strategy should be in place to rapidly identify and control future outbreaks.

Weekly Economy Summary

COVID-19: Weekly Economy Summary – 18 February

The Economy Summary is part of our Weekly COVID-19 Bulletin, sent every Thursday. You can sign up to receive your copy here.

Data from the Office for National Statistics shows that the UK economy shrunk by a record amount (9.9%) last year, more than twice the previous largest annual fall. However, it grew by 1.2% in December when some restrictions were eased, making it likely that the UK can avoid a double-dip recession.

As stringent Covid-19 restrictions are expected to remain elevated until early spring, along with the effects of post-Brexit adjustment, the NIESR’s forecast is for GDP growth to decline by 3.8% in the first quarter of 2021.

The Treasury Committee has published the third report of its inquiry into the Economic Impact of Coronavirus – ‘Gaps in Support and Economic Analysis’. Its recommendations include: Government must set out criteria for how and when it will lift lockdown restrictions with economic and epidemiological modelling to support it; HM Treasury should be more transparent with economic analysis that informs Government decisions; HM Treasury should use 2019-20 tax returns to help the newly self-employed; Eligibility for Government support should be extended to those missing out, including limited company directors and freelancers.

The IPPR think tank released a new briefing paper, in which Chancellor Rishi Sunak is urged to quadruple the Government’s planned crisis spending to £190bn in order to restore jobs, investment, and services. Failure to deliver such a boost risks condemning the UK to a ‘stagnation trap’ with about half the rate of economic recovery. It would mean lower business investment and leave unemployment at more than 10% in spring next year.

The British Chambers of Commerce published a new COVID survey that finds that 25% of respondents say they will have to make staff redundant if Government financial support ends in March and April. The BCC is calling on the Government to keep financial support going while firms reopen and rebuild, with a clear roadmap for reopening to help increase business confidence.

Similarly, a £13bn tax rescue package could be key to reviving the economy, boosting the hospitality sector and saving summer holidays, according to a report from The TaxPayer’s Alliance. The report claims an extension to the Chancellor’s business rates holiday and VAT reduction would create tax cuts of £9.4bn and £3.5bn respectively in 2021-22, a total of £12.9bn. If extended until after 2022-23 as proposed, this would generate total savings of £25.6bn for the sector over the two years.

Labour set out new plans to back British businesses, as it calls on the Government to help ease the Covid-debt burden faced by firms across the country. The party suggested converting the Bounce Back Loans (BBLs) scheme into a ‘student-loan style’ arrangement, so that businesses only have to start repayments when they are making money. Labour also called for the establishment of a British Business Recovery Agency that would manage the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loans Scheme (CBILs) and Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CLBILs) in order to create terms that secure the future of businesses, including employee ownership, preference shares and subordinated debt.

Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds’s business-backing plan comes after a week in which Labour has called for business rate holidays and VAT cuts to be extended and for a smarter furlough scheme to last until necessary health restrictions are lifted.

Almost two millions workers were unemployed or fully furloughed in January and had been for at least six months, according to a report by The Resolution Foundation. The report finds that the number of people on the Government’s Job Retention Scheme (JRS) has risen to around 4.5m during the current lockdown, almost half of the peak during the first lockdown; indicating that firms have adapted to operating during the pandemic.

The report calls for the full JRS to remain in place for several months after public health restrictions have been lifted to give firms time to bring staff back, and remain in place for longer in sectors still subject to legal restrictions, such as hospitality and leisure.

Budget speculation Housing

Budget 2021 Speculation: Housing

In the run up to next month’s Budget, housing industry bodies have been leading numerous campaigns – from protecting leaseholders from cladding costs, to extending various tax cuts, to accelerating the decarbonisation of buildings.

Here are six policies that could be included in the Chancellor’s statement.

1. Stamp Duty holiday extension
Many in the housing sector are calling for the six-month Stamp Duty holiday to be extended beyond the current 31 March expiry date. Both buyers and sellers have called for an extension to the six-month tax break, introduced to support the property market during the pandemic. Experts have predicted that the end of the scheme could see house prices decrease significantly. Other than setting the end of the Stamp Duty holiday to another date, the Chancellor could choose to introduce exemptions for buyers already at a certain stage along the process, or permanently maintain the threshold for eligibility at properties over £500,000.

2. Property tax
There have been reports that Stamp Duty could be scrapped altogether, along with council tax, to be replaced with a new property value tax. This could appear in the form of a proportional property tax – a levy that homeowners would have to pay each year on the value of their property. For landlords with more than one residential property, the tax would apply for each property owned. There have been suggestions that the money raised from the levy could be split between the Treasury and the local authority.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has already announced that developers seeking permission to develop certain high-rise buildings in England will have to pay a ‘Gateway 2’ developer levy. In addition to this, a new tax will be introduced for the UK residential property development sector, expected to raise at least £2bn over a decade to go towards cladding remediation costs. Details of this will be the subject of a consultation paper, which could be put forward at the Budget.

3. Domestic reverse charge
The ‘domestic reverse charge’ change means companies in the construction supply chain will no longer receive their 20% VAT payment when they submit bills. The VAT cash will instead be paid direct to HMRC by the customer receiving the service, who will reclaim it in the normal way.

Despite the changes coming into effect on 1 March, industry bodies, such as the Construction Leadership Council and the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) are hoping for a last-minute change of plan ahead of the Budget, warning that more than 150,000 construction companies will experience a 20% drop in cash flow as a result. In a letter to the Chancellor, Chairman of the Construction Leadership Council Andy Mitchell argued that the policy ‘risks reversing any recovery industry has made from Covid-19 and will limit the scope for protecting and creating jobs across the UK’. An Early Day Motion expressing concern over the Treasury’s decision to go ahead with the policy was tabled last week by SNP MP Kirsten Oswald.

4. National Retrofit Strategy
There have been numerous calls from industry bodies, including the National Housing Federation and the FMB, for a National Retrofit Strategy. Decarbonising homes and buildings is a vital step in achieving net zero emissions by 2050. In its Energy White Paper released in December, the Government said a programme for retrofitting homes to improve energy efficiency will be introduced. This could happen at the Budget.

5. Another extension to the Green Homes Grant
The Green Homes Grant has already been extended once, until March 2022, however, poor uptake of the scheme – described as complex and difficult to access – has led the Government to cut funding by £1.5bn from April. Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee Philip Dunne argued that unless the scheme is further extended, it will fail to meet its ambitions.

6. Extension to the Universal Credit uplift
Universal Credit claimants have been receiving a weekly £20 rise during the coronavirus pandemic. The Government is under increased pressure to extend the rise past 31 March, however, speaking on the Andrew Marr Show, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said it was a ‘temporary measure’ and that the Budget would set out support ‘in the round’.

Instead of extending the rise, there have been numerous reports in the media that the Chancellor is contemplating offering Universal Credit claimants a one-off payment of £500. However, this was rejected by Work and Pensions Secretary Thérèse Coffey.

Vuelio Political clients will receive the Budget Summary on 3 March. 

The Power of Mentoring

The benefits of coaching and mentoring in the workplace

Mentoring can be a great way to help young people as they enter the world of work and learn to navigate office politics, discover the nuances of email and work etiquette. We caught up with mentor and Pulsar strategic account director Patrick Dalgleish and his mentee Franklin Nnodi to talk about their mentoring experience.

What made you want to take part in the IntoUniversity mentoring scheme?

Patrick Dalgleish: I had been thinking for a while that I’d like to ‘give something back’ and use some of my time and experience to help others. I went into it with an open mind, and looked at a few things from food charities, to environmental work, and came across IntoUniversity’s corporate mentoring scheme which seemed to fit most neatly with my experience of having recently been through university (or at least not too long ago at the time!), I was in a settled job, and seemed to work well around my schedule.

Franklin Nnodi: It was an opportunity that was presented to me during sixth form and I simply thought ‘why not’. I was eager to learn, network and better myself in any way and so to meet a professional mentor who is experienced and passionate in their role would be a huge opportunity to learn and get some answers to interesting questions.

How long did the scheme last and how did it fit around your working day/degree?

Patrick: The scheme formally lasted for 12 months, with the first half focused on preparing Franklin for uni – doing the applications, finding accommodation, talking through what to expect – and the second half being when Franklin started university and supporting him with any questions he might have.

The scheme formally ended after his 1st semester at uni, but Franklin and I continue to stay in regular contact two years later!

It fitted relatively easily around my working day, we would meet up usually once a month, when he was at school it was a little more challenging as we had to meet at the IntoUni premises – therefore I’d need to finish work a little bit early on that day, which Pulsar was always supportive of.

Franklin: Luckily myself and my mentor both live in the same part of London so I was able to meet him for coffee in his office and have our catchup (pre-COVID). If that wasn’t possible then we’d usually schedule quarterly catchup calls via WhatsApp so I can keep him in the loop and up to date with any of my achievements or struggles I was experiencing.

Did you face any challenges during the mentoring? If so, what were they and how did you overcome them?

Patrick: The main challenge was finding ways to help Franklin as he very much knew what he wanted and where he wanted to be! And he’s been extremely successful in achieving that.

Franklin also asked me whether Pulsar could help with providing work experience. It wasn’t something we’d formally done before, but the HR team here were keen and created a insightful schedule for Franklin over the course of two weeks.

Franklin: No huge challenges, however, trying to organise meetups in person (pre-COVID) would be quite difficult due to his busy work schedule and the spontaneity of university events and commitments. Establishing good communication and planning well in advance is how we managed to keep in contact as frequently as we did.

What was your highlight in the mentoring experience and why?

Patrick: The highlight has just been getting to know Franklin and watching him progress through university. I felt genuinely proud when he let me know he’d been offered a graduate job with the investment firm Schroders at the end of his second year at uni.

Franklin: By having such a great relationship with my mentor, I was able to gain a spring insight week and a short summer work experience placement in his company. I was able to work closely alongside him and his colleagues and gain amazing insight into his industry.

What advice would you give to someone considering taking part in a mentoring scheme?

Patrick: Do it! Your experience will undoubtedly help a young person starting off in their university or professional career.

Franklin: Be organised, be honest, be enthusiastic and most importantly be willing to learn because these guys have made all the mistakes so you don’t have to.

Finally, would you do it again?

Patrick: Absolutely!

Franklin: 1000% yes.

Find out more about social listening platform Pulsar.

accessmatters with Katie Phillips

accessmatters with KDP Coaching & Consulting’s Katie Phillips

‘There’s never been a better time to talk about mental health in the workplace, but we’ve got a long bloody way to go,’ is how KDP Coaching & Consulting’s Katie Phillips summed up the management of mental health issues in 2021 during today’s accessmatters discussion on wellbeing in the workplace.

In the session, ‘recovering perfectionist’ Katie shared the story of how she became an advocate for mental wellbeing at work as well as advice for those currently struggling. With 15 years of experience in communications, government, corporates and start-ups across the world, Katie’s own burn out and eventual recovery inspired her to launch her own consultancy, helping businesses and individuals nurture mental health with one-to-one workshops and coaching.

‘I’ve seen the good, the bad and the horrendously ugly of workplace wellbeing,’ said Katie. ‘I realised that something had to change and decided I was going to quit my job, sell all my stuff and run off to the jungle to recoup… I don’t recommend this to everyone, though – don’t fret, that’s not the only way to do it’.

Being a habitual overachiever and perfectionist, Katie’s professional life had never been completely healthy, though it was experiences of chaotic, overly-hierarchical and unkind work environments that turned the day-to-day stresses of working in PR into a full-on crisis. It is recognising that difference between the states of stress and burnout that those working during the pandemic need to pay attention to, advises Katie: ‘Stress is very much about feeling too much – too much work, pressure, noise. Burnout is feeling “not enough” – not filled with hope; empty’.

For Katie, the ramping up of stress to burnout meant a constant questioning of her own ability, feelings of resentment, a louder than ever inner critic that followed her outside of work and physical problems – skin complaints, twitching eyelids and nightly episodes of sickness that wouldn’t allow her to sleep. For those who are noticing similar issues with their own wellbeing, what can be done?

‘The main thing I always say is to look for changes in behaviour,’ says Katie. ‘Be self-aware – notice physical, emotional and cognitive changes. Are you getting colds frequently, are you more tearful or irritable than usual? Do you get brain fog? Do things take longer than they normally would? All of us are experiencing some of these things now – everyone reports this stuff to some level. Our brains are flooded with cortisol; we’re always tired.

‘Are you checking your emails all night, working when you’re sick? These behaviours can lead you very quickly to feelings of exhaustion. It’s really important to look for those changes and be aware of them.’

On the company-level, Katie believes more needs to be done to support the mental health of employees – ‘I’m not sure anyone is doing enough. We are making massive progress, but is talking going to fix things? Companies need to create environments where people thrive. The mental health stuff needs to come on top of systemic change. To be enough, we need to think about the foundations of our organisations and the industry itself.’

And for drawing a line between work and life when things are increasingly blurry, Katie believes making the effort to switch off is vital. ‘I wish I had a magic wand for it. You have to do what works for you; we all need different things. Picking up hobbies I used to love when I was little helps – I loved drawing when I was little, so I started doodling again. I really loved to be on my bike, so I bought a bike. Think about things you used to do for fun. I know it’s not the same as going on holiday, but get a colouring book, cook, have a call with your mates or loved ones.’

Just as important as staying connected and talking, is listening – being aware of what your fellow colleagues might be going through and supporting each other: ‘It’s not just talking, it’s the conversations – a dialogue, not just putting out messages,’ says Katie. ‘Classic PR and marketing stuff, really.’

For more from accessmatters, catch up with our previous sessions with Taylor Bennett Foundation’s Melissa Lawrence and Manifest’s Julian Obubo or check out the accessmatters hub.

Fuse podcast

The PRCA launches the Fuse podcast

The PRCA has launched Fuse, a podcast focusing on innovation and influence for those working in PR, marketing and other creative industries across the globe.

Fuse will take the form of a biweekly, fifteen-minute podcast and feature best practice advice with an aim to inspire fresh ways of working and challenge the status quo in the industry. Content will be inspired by the experiences and expertise of practitioners from a variety of specialisms.

‘We look forward to putting the full power of storytelling to bring facts and insights from individuals and brands from around the world,’ said podcast host Dan Gold.

‘We are putting people first. Expertise is found throughout the industry in all locations and all stages on the professional journey – from the savvy leaders to the young up-and-coming creatives. We are looking for practitioners from any background and experience to get involved with Fuse for the opportunity to speak about what they care about.’

Those hoping to get involved in the podcast, whether for interview or debate around challenges facing PRs, marketers and communicators, can get in touch with PRCA head of communications Michael Collins. Contributors from all levels are welcome.

For more podcasts focusing on the big issues in PR and communications, check out six of our favourites here.

Dos and Don'ts of work video calls

Video call etiquette when working from home

The etiquette of work video calls should now be ingrained in the majority of our minds forever as working from home has been a daily reality for much of the PR and comms industry for almost a full year now.

However, there are still dangers that go beyond being told ‘you’re on mute/can you mute – I can hear you breathing’ if you aren’t vigilant during a call. Here are five of them, and some examples to illustrate the horrors in store for those who aren’t careful…

1) Make sure you know how to remove filters and effects AKA don’t be a cat
Texas lawyer Rob Ponton knows this one well after going viral last week when finding himself unable to remove a video filter that turned him into a kitten with creepy eyes during a hearing conducted over video. Potato filter fan Lizet Ocampo can tell you, too. If your video chat platform for work is also one you use for keeping in touch with friends/family/kitten-with-creepy-eyes or potato enthusiasts, make sure you’ve removed any filters before you pick up a work call. Unless your line manager is very forgiving, or has the same interests. Similarly, make sure your display name is not still a private or inappropriate joke from the weekend’s quiz.

2) Pick the right place for picking up work video calls AKA not the bathroom
New Jersey school board member Frances Cogelja knows the trouble of taking your Zoom call to the wrong room, after having to resign following her bathroom break broadcast during a digital meeting. After so long working from home, we probably all have a place picked out for our video work calls – just don’t be tempted to change location mid-meeting…

3) Check your background is appropriate AKA don’t leave anything too interesting on the shelves behind you
And while we’re on the subject of picking out the most appropriate place in the home for picking up work video calls, a plain wall or a bookshelf featuring your most high-brow books are perfect backdrops. Just don’t do like Yvette Amos when appearing on BBC Wales, who had an x-rated ‘ornament’ taking pride of place on her bookshelf background – at least, not when you’re on the clock.

4) Mute/unmute appropriately AKA don’t complain about the Prime Minster over a hot mic
Grumbling about something your boss or a colleague has just said is a no go in person, and it’s no different digitally. Because no matter how careful you are with that mute button, mistakes happen, a la Laura Kuenssberg’s mishap during a Downing Street coronavirus press conference.

5) Don’t speak over others AKA be as respectful to your colleagues as you would be to Jackie Weaver
Picking up on social cues can be extra-tough when speaking digitally – particularly when it comes to determining when it is your time to talk if temperatures are high, or everyone has a lot to say. But speaking over other people to get your point across isn’t it, as the disrespectful members of Handforth parish council’s planning and environment committee now know for sure. Give people their time to speak, or risk being kicked out of the call by the Jackie Weaver of your working life.

6) Let your pets in the frame sometimes AKA do like Toulouse and Katie Collins would do
While ensuring children stay out of your work calls is an unavoidable difficulty of modern parenting (just ask Professor Robert Kelly and, well, anyone working with children in the vicinity), there are other frequently uninvited attendees of video chats, everywhere – pets. But unlike kids, who have homework to do, cats, dogs, rabbits and hamsters have nowhere else to be, so consider letting them walk into frame every now and again – your colleagues will likely thank you for it (even those who are allergic – there are some pros to video calls, after all).

Want more tips for digital working? Here are eight tips for moving your event online.

Healthcare

Health and care system reform

The Government laid out wide ranging reform of the health and care system yesterday. The White Paper ‘Integration and Innovation’, marks a structural shift away from the coalition Government reforms of 2012, and sets out ambitious legislative proposals for a new Health and Care Bill. 

The main aims of the proposals are to integrate healthcare systems, reduce bureaucracy and strengthen accountability in the sector. Announcing the plans, Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘Even before the pandemic, it was clear that reform was needed to update the law, to improve how the NHS operates and to reduce bureaucracy… All parts of the system told us that they want to embrace modern technology, to innovate, to join up, to share data, to serve people and, ultimately, to be trusted to get on and do all that so that they can improve patient care and save lives.’

The plans propose that Integrated Care Systems (ICS) are rolled out across the country, bringing together NHS organisations, local government and wider partners at a system level. In order to increase collaboration, bureaucracy will be reduced and there will be greater flexibility for the workforce with increased data sharing mechanisms. Aiming to improve accountability and public confidence, the Secretary of State will have greater powers of intervention, including over a newly merged NHS England and NHS Improvement organisation.

Response to the proposals is mixed; although plans to integrate the healthcare system are largely positive, there is some concern over moving power away from NHS England to central Government. Additionally, with the health system still battling an acute wave of the coronavirus pandemic, some are concerned that now is simply not the right time for reform.

Shadow Health and Social Care Secretary Johnathan Ashworth welcomed integration plans, but asked for greater clarity on how the new structures will be governed. He called the decision to give more control to the Government a ‘power grab’ and suggested that changes to competition rules would leave the door open for ‘institutionalised cronyism at the top’.

NHS Providers suggested that the proposals provide an ‘important opportunity to speed up the move to integrate health and care at a local level’, but called for greater detail on the Secretary of State’s new powers over NHS England.

NHS Confederation called the reforms ‘vital for improving patient care’ after the 2012 reforms have ‘largely failed’.

Lou Patten, CEO of NHS Clinical Commissioners and NHS Confederation ICS Lead, called the decision to establish ICSs across the country a ‘logical step’ to build on the progress seen from the past few years. He called for greater detail on how the new systems will be governed, highlighting that retaining the expertise of senior staff throughout the restructuring process is essential.

Alzheimer’s Society said that with the pandemic exposing how ‘truly broken’ the social care system is, greater integration between health and social care is a ‘good step forward’. It argued that any reforms should come in conjunction to a social care system ‘overhaul’.

The Health Foundation also welcomed the decision to increase collaboration between services, suggesting that the proposals could bring ‘real benefits’. However, it argues that with the NHS facing huge challenges due the pandemic and rising waiting lists, a reorganisation of the health system could cause ‘distraction and disruption’. Furthermore, the decision to increase Government power is ‘politically driven’, it argued that ‘the Government’s handling of Covid-19 is no advert for more ministerial intervention in the health system’.

The King’s Fund also welcomed greater collaboration across the heath and care sector. Richard Murray, Chief Executive of The King’s Fund, said: ‘These new plans could give the NHS and its partners greater flexibility to deliver joined-up care to the increasing numbers of people who rely on multiple different services.’

However, it worries that under the new proposals, the day-to-day clinical and operational independence of the NHS will be diminished, and argued that devolving greater power to NHS England was one of the ‘successes’ of past reforms.

In a similar vein, the Institute for Government’s Nicholas Timmins has said greater ministerial control ‘threatens to take the NHS back to the wrong sort of future’. He suggests it could lead a ‘constant chopping and changing of goals’ and less public pressure from within NHS England, which would ultimately be to the detriment of long term performance.

Vuelio Political clients received their copy of the white paper summary yesterday. Find out more about our political products and services.

Supporting Local Businesses During COVID-19 and Beyond

The Power of Community: Supporting Local Businesses During COVID-19 and Beyond

This is a guest post by Gallium Ventures managing director and founder Heather Delaney.

As society adjusts to this new normal of lockdowns, work-from-home (WFH) and virtual everything, we have seen the power of community coming together and supporting one another in a way that is incredibly inspiring. According to a recent UK survey, 58% of Brits are making more of an effort to support small businesses due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, with nearly 60% agreeing that their community depends on local businesses. Individuals shifting their investment of time and money into local businesses seems to be a trend that is (rightly so) here to stay.

Heather Delaney

At Gallium Ventures, we have always been passionate about supporting the ‘little guys’ with a dream and as a result we don’t only work with large global companies but focus a lot of time and energy on the little ones, as everyone has to start somewhere. Once the pandemic began, we felt even more responsible for doing our part by offering our services to further support these businesses, and since then we have worked with several amazing companies in the process.

SocialBox.uk – Leveraging media to support a good cause
SocialBox.uk is a Brighton-based not-for-profit organisation, that was established during the pandemic by local business owners in the catering sector. They not only supported the supply chains of local hospitality businesses but also provided fresh, free produce to local NHS workers and those in need. Inspired by this incredible story, we worked to raise awareness of the organisation as they looked to continue raising funds for the business. Over the course of our work, we secured coverage highlighting the partnership in online and radio, including The Latest Brighton and BBC Radio Sussex, drumming up visibility and support for this inspiring story of a local community helping out its own. It was an incredibly fulfilling campaign and one that the whole team enjoyed working on.

Curlicue – Helping local businesses support local business
Over the past couple years, we’ve worked with startup founder Hem Chauhan as she established Curlicue, an eco-friendly gift wrapping business which has sustainability at its heart.

It is companies like Curlicue, which has hired local artists, printers and has created its own local ecosystem that gives our team a real boost of excitement when working with the media as we know everything we do has a direct impact on a number of local people. As a result of our media outreach, Curlicue has been featured in WIRED UK, Elle UK and Metro Magazine, which Hem will attest has been instrumental in making more people aware of her product – customers and retail partners alike.

How can PR agencies provide support?
Over the course of the pandemic, it has been clear that everyone can do their part to give back and support the businesses in their local community – and that extends to PR agencies. Now, more than ever, agencies are well equipped to provide their services in raising visibility and awareness for businesses via media relations, social media, marketing and more.

One way that agencies can help out is by providing pro bono advisory services and/or mentoring to local business owners and startup founders who are trying to manage a business during this tough time. Whether it is providing PR training, advising on internal messaging or giving a quick ‘Social Media 101’ to help a business get their social media off the ground, every little bit counts. It’s a small yet incredibly valuable way of providing business owners with the insights, tools and resources necessary to adapt and survive during these unprecedented times.

Despite these challenging times, there is so much that can be done to ensure the continued success of our local businesses. Let’s help where we can.

For more on supporting local businesses, read our previous guest post from White Rose PR’s Louise Pinchin on the power of regional PR

Weekly Health Summary

Covid-19: Weekly Health Summary – 11 February

The Health Summary is part of our Weekly COVID-19 Bulletin, sent every Thursday. You can sign up to receive your copy here.

Efforts to roll out the Covid-19 vaccine have continued, with the latest figures showing that 13,058,298 have had their first dose.

Close to meeting the Government’s 15 February target of offering the vaccine to everyone 70 and over, to all frontline NHS and care staff, to older care home residents and to all those who are clinically extremely vulnerable, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson called for everyone who hasn’t had a vaccine, but is eligible, to book a appointment and take up the offer.

He also said that, if we can keep the pace and supplies of vaccines up, the Government hopes to reach everyone in cohorts one to nine, which would include all those over 50, by the end of April. He said that it is vital that the public takes up their offer of a vaccine ‘to save lives, prevent serious illness, and so the whole country can take another step on a long and hard road back to normality.’

New measures have been brought in at the border to increase the country’s security against new variants of concern arriving from abroad. As well as having to take a predeparture test, and quarantine for 10 days upon arrival, all international arrivals, will soon be required by law to take further PCR tests on day two and day eight of that quarantine.

From Monday, those arriving from ‘red list’ countries will have to stay in an assigned hotel room for 10 days from the time of arrival and carry out their quarantine there. The new measures have come with strict enforcement plans, including a £5,000 fixed penalty notice, rising to £10,000, for arrivals who fail to quarantine in a designated hotel, and for anyone who lies on a passenger locator form and tries to conceal that they’ve been in red-list country in the 10 days before arrival will face a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

Announcing the new measures, Health and Social Care Secretary said: ‘Our fight against this virus has many fronts. And just as we’re attacking this virus through our vaccination programme, which is protecting more people each day, we’re buttressing our defences through these vital measures so we can protect the progress that we’ve worked together so hard to accomplish.’

Office for National Statistics figures published this week showed that the number of deaths registered in England and Wales in the week ending 29 January was 18,448; this was 228 fewer deaths than in the previous week. The number of deaths was 44.6% above the five-year average.

Responding to the figures, Dr Layla McCay, director at the NHS Confederation, said: ‘These figures are a clear reminder of the heavy human cost of the Covid-19 crisis. This is still a very real emergency, with more than 112,000 lives tragically lost to the virus across the UK, and nearly 30,000 people in hospital with Covid-19 – more than at the height of the first peak last spring.’

Nuffield Trust said the figures show the ‘harsh reality of the second wave’, adding: ‘It is striking how long and widespread the impact of the second wave has been. In all regions, the number of deaths recorded has been above the five-year average for 12 weeks running. The lasting impact on families and carers after this long period cannot be underestimated.’

Finally, a report by the Public Accounts Committee on supply and procurement of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) published this week argued that front line health workers were left ‘risking lives to provide treatment and care’. It said that an ‘inadequate’ pandemic plan and equipment stockpile left frontline workers having to care for people with Covid-19 or suspected Covid-19 without sufficient PPE to protect themselves from infection.

Surveys by staff representative organisations showed at least 30% of participating care workers, doctors and nurses reported having insufficient PPE, even in high-risk settings. PPE from central government was sometimes not usable and the Government’s emergency helplines referred them to suppliers that did not have PPE.

The British Medical Association (BMA) has welcomed the Committee’s recommendation that the Government improve its approach to managing and distributing stocks of PPE. BMA council chair Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘The Government needs to listen to the experiences of doctors, of all health and social care workers, understand the life-threatening risks they had to take to care for their patients and then, do everything possible to make sure no healthcare worker is ever put at risk in this way again.’

NHS Providers said the Committee report highlights the difficulty in accessing PPE supply in the early pandemic stages: ‘PPE supplies are now much improved, including in social care settings, where the situation was worst. UK manufacturing efforts have been successful, and it is important that these continue to ensure sustainability of future supplies.’ It argued that ensuring staff have the right equipment to do their jobs safely is an ‘absolute priority’.

 

Weekly Economy Summary

COVID-19: Weekly Economy Summary – 11 February

The Economy Summary is part of our Weekly COVID-19 Bulletin, sent every Thursday. You can sign up to receive your copy here.

This week, the Government announced that businesses that took out Government-backed Bounce Back Loans to get through Covid-19 will now have greater flexibility to repay them.

The Treasury’s Pay as You Grow repayment flexibilities enable borrowers to tailor their repayment schedule, with the option to extend the length of their loans from six to ten years (reducing monthly repayments by almost half), make interest-only payments for six months or pause repayments for up to six months. They can also delay all repayments for a further six months, meaning businesses can choose to make no payments on their loans until 18 months after they originally took them out.

Pay as You Grow will be available to more than 1.4m businesses that took out a total of nearly £45bn through the Bounce Back Loan Scheme.

The resurgence of Covid-19 has led to a downward revision in forecasts of UK economic growth in 2021, made by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR), from 5.9% to 3.4%.

In NIESR’s main-case forecast scenario, unemployment is expected to rise significantly following the end of job schemes in April, reaching 7.5% or 2.5m people by the end of the year. The report warns against Covid support being withdrawn prematurely and calls on the Chancellor to announce policies to support the labour market beyond April.

Similarly, Labour warned that businesses face a bombshell in April of more than £50bn, which will cost jobs and blow a massive hole in the recovery, as rates holidays, tax deferrals, VAT cuts, the furlough scheme and other Government support packages are due to end. On a similar note, IPPR published new analysis which concludes that more than half a million UK employers are at risk of collapse in the spring without the extension of business support, as cash reserves fall ‘perilously low’.

Resolution Foundation agrees with the extension of current support but also goes further, urging the Chancellor to introduce targeted grants for firms in the sectors most affected. Similarly, the Institute of Directors’ Budget submission calls for Chancellor Rishi Sunak to put entrepreneurs at the heart of his Budget and deliver a ‘shot in the arm’ through a stimulus package to unleash investment in start-ups alongside measures for the millions of owner-directors who have been without significant financial support for almost a year.

Members of the Work and Pensions Committee argued that the Chancellor must maintain for another year ‘at the very least’ the £20 per week increase in Universal Credit (UC) and Working Tax Credit introduced to support families during the coronavirus pandemic. The report warns that removing the payment as planned in April, while the effects of the pandemic are still being felt, would ‘plunge hundreds of thousands of households, including children, into poverty’ while dragging those already in poverty ‘down into destitution’.

While the Committee recognises that continuing with the increase would come at a ‘substantial cost’, it argues that this should be seen in the context of the Treasury’s own £280bn figure for total spending on coronavirus support measures this year.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has estimated that keeping the £20 rise would cost around £6.4bn in the next financial year. Similarly, in a new Women and Equalities committee report, committee members have issued 20 recommendations for the Government to tackle the gendered economic impact of coronavirus, including maintaining the £20 increase to Universal Credit.

PRCA Virtual International Summit 2021

Agenda revealed for PRCA’s Virtual International Summit in March

The PRCA has revealed the agenda for March’s Virtual International Summit exploring how PR and communications practitioners are continuing to deliver value for clients despite the challenges of the last year.

International brands, agencies and organisations featuring at the two-day event taking place on 30-31 March include Campaign Middle East, Google, Microsoft, Standard Bank Group, Avian WE, Edelman, Omnicom, and Zeno Group, AMEC, Institute for Public Relations (IPR), FIBEP and The World Bank.

2020’s inaugural Summit attracted over 700 delegates from 35 different countries. Those attending this year will be given the opportunity to learn about emerging trends in comms practice across the world.

‘Our International Summit is truly global,’ said PRCA director general Francis Ingham. ‘With speakers from giant brands like Microsoft and Google to organisations like AMEC, who are at the cutting edge of measuring PR’s true impact, delegates will be treated to the very best global perspectives.

‘Last year was brutal for everyone, but growth is returning – and dare I say, considerably. Our Summit will explore these opportunities that lie in wait to help forge a new path for organisations and society across the world.’

More about booking places for this year’s Virtual International Summit can be found on the PRCA website.

More of the best PR podcasts

More of the best PR podcasts

Following the first selection of our favourite PR and comms-related podcasts, here are a few more worth listening to if you’re hoping to sharpen up your creativity, sector knowledge or communication skills this year.

Have You Got 5 Minutes?
If you have, let podcast hosts Harriet Small and Rebecca Roberts answer ‘the things you would normally have asked someone really quickly about at an event or while making a brew in the office’. Grab a cuppa and catch up with Harriet and Rebecca on topics including unpaid invoices, learning to say no and the real reasons we procrastinate.

Outspeech: The Digital PR Podcast
From digital marketing agency Impression, monthly podcast Outspeech delves into the topics, campaigns and ‘beef (vegan options available)’ gaining traction in the industry. Most episodes are hosted by a member of Impression’s digital PR team, but guest speakers are very welcome. Listen in to recent episodes on traditional vs digital PR and check out more about the podcast in our previous interview with Jess Hawkes here.

Hanson & Hunt: The Talking Points Podcast
Hosts Hanson & Hunt are ACH Communications’ Arik Hanson and General Mills’ Kevin Hunt, who have many years of experience to share with their listeners on traditional and digital PR, corporate, external and internal, as well as marketing and comms. If you haven’t listened in before, check out their back catalogue of useful content including ‘Brand Journalism, KFC Gets Sexy, Hated Interview Questions’.

Hear It Podcast
If engaging the attention of young minds is your/your clients’ thing, the Hear It Podcast is one worth listening to. Featuring insight from practitioners working with youth audiences, pick up some youth marketing expertise from guests including Well HQ’s Dr Emma Ross, Lynn PR’s Shayoni Lynn and NHS Lothian’s Leanne Hughes.

The PRovoke Podcast
The PRovoke Podcast has a deep back catalogue of episodes and regularly features guest speakers from across the globe to cover developments happening in the marketing industry. Does coverage equal capital? How can you build a sustainable agency? And how exactly did 2020 change influencer marketing? Listen in to get the answers.

PRMoment
For more takes on the tough questions facing PRs, communicators and marketeers this year, the PRMoment podcast team are busy ruminating with guests working across the sector. Listen in to the latest episode tackling whether PR has an ethics problem, featuring thought from the co-authors of Public Relations Ethics Trevor Morris and Simon Goldsworthy.

Looking for more expertise from industry thought leaders? Check out our recommended reads for PRs.

Weekly Economy Summary

COVID-19: Weekly Economy Summary – 4 February

The Economy Summary is part of our Weekly COVID-19 Bulletin, sent every Thursday. You can sign up to receive your copy here.

It has been reported that proposals to support the economic recovery will be published in the week of 22 February, alongside a ‘road map’ out of the current Covid-19 lockdown in England.

In a letter to business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) warned that the current lack of clarity for businesses is hindering investment. CBI has called for more details from the Government on which sectors will be allowed to reopen first and how any new tier system will work, to enable them to plan ahead. Running alongside the roadmap, CBI argued there must be clear parameters for determining what, and for how long, economic support measures remain in place. On this, the trade group UKHospitality is urging the Government to extend the current VAT cut for the hospitality sector for another 12 months, alongside a business rates holiday for 2021-22.

Rishi Sunak has been warned by the leaders of Britain’s most influential business groups and the trade union movement that he risks plunging Britain into a period of mass unemployment unless he extends the furlough scheme.

Before the upcoming budget on 3 March, both sides of industry told the Chancellor that the economy was too fragile to end the wage subsidy scheme at the end of April and that he risked undoing the efforts to protect jobs over the past year if he did so. Frances O’Grady, the TUC general secretary, said Sunak should announce immediately that furlough would remain in place until the end of the year. The British Chambers of Commerce also called for an extension. It warned that the planned phased relaxation of lockdown restrictions does not mean that the problems of business are at an end.

Last Friday marked the deadline for applications to the third phase of the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS). The Labour Party suggests that 2.4m self-employed people who rely on the SEISS scheme will be ‘left in the dark’ for weeks, with no announcement on the fourth grant due until the Chancellor’s 3 March Budget.

Bridget Phillipson MP, Labour’s Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury said that ‘leaving entrepreneurs in the dark about future support risks pushing even more out of business – and that will damage our recovery’. Labour also called on the Chancellor to open his support scheme for the self-employed to the 200,000 people who only have a 2019/20 tax return.

The APPG on Poverty released its report on the impact on poverty of not keeping the £20 uplift in Universal Credit and working tax credits, and of not extending the uplift to legacy and related benefits. The report references modelling carried out by Policy in Practice which found that if the uplift was withdrawn, 683,000 households, including 824,000 children, would no longer be able to afford to meet their essential needs. This number grows by 11% when the impact of the two-child limit is taken into account.

Research by Save the Children indicates that parents who received the uplift predominantly spent the money on essentials such as food, rents and bills, and items for home schooling. The APPG received multiple submissions calling for the extension of the uplift to legacy and related benefits. This was particularly pertinent as most people claiming legacy and related benefits are disabled, carers or have a long-term illness – the majority of whom fall in the poorest 10% of the population.

Similarly, according to a report by the Trussell Trust, nearly a quarter of a million parents who receive Universal Credit say they would be likely to cut back on food for their children if the £20 uplift to the benefit is removed. Over 40% of people who receive the benefit, around 2.4 million people across the UK, would be likely to cut back on food for themselves, the report reveals, and the charity forecasts a rise in the need for food banks if the £20 uplift is removed. It recommends maintaining the uplift and extending it to legacy benefits.

Weekly Health Summary

Covid-19: Weekly Health Summary – 4 February

The Health Summary is part of our Weekly COVID-19 Bulletin, sent every Thursday. You can sign up to receive your copy here.

Speaking at the Downing Street Press Conference this week, England’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said that the number of cases, hospitalisations and deaths are on a ‘downward slope’.

This is the first time since the onset of the current wave that the numbers are being to fall, but despite this, the level of infection is still ‘incredibly high’ with the number of people in hospital with Covid-19 still above that of the first peak in April 2020. The Prime Minister suggested that by 22 February, the Government would be setting out a roadmap on restrictions including on plans to reopen schools in March.

Responding to the Press Conference, NHS Providers said it is ‘really good’ that infections are falling, but the situation for hospitals, the mental health community and ambulance services ‘remains extremely difficult’ with more than 27,000 Covid-19 patients in hospital and intensive care running at one and a half times baseline capacity. It argues that: ‘We should only loosen restrictions when we are absolutely sure we won’t risk triggering another wave of infections.’

On Wednesday, the UK recorded a further 1,322 deaths reported within 28 days of a positive test for coronavirus, bringing the total number of people who have died by this measure to 109,335, while a further 19,202 new cases were recorded.

Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show that last week the number of deaths in care homes related to Covid-19 increased, accounting for nearly half of all deaths in care homes. Responding to the numbers, the Alzheimer’s Society has called on the Government to roll out the second dose of the Covid-19 jabs across care homes, and to provide a ‘concrete plan for safe meaningful visits to ensure people with dementia get vital contact with family carers’.

Nuffield Trust said the ONS figures represent another ‘terrible and deadly week of this relentless wave of the pandemic’. It has stressed that the level of death is ‘a long way from a typical winter’ highlighting that ‘excess deaths against the five-year average for this time of year are over 40% higher’.

Efforts to roll out the Covid-19 vaccine have continued this week with the Government reporting that more than 10 million people in the UK have received their first dose of a vaccine, including nine in 10 people aged 75 and over in England. It puts the Government in line with its Vaccines Delivery plan which aims to offer vaccines to the top four priority groups by the middle of February. It is thought that these top four groups account for 88% of COVID deaths, which is why the vaccines will play such a crucial role in saving lives and reducing the demand on the NHS.

Announcing that 10 million people have been vaccinated, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘This terrific achievement is testament to the monumental effort of NHS workers, volunteers and the armed forces who have been working tirelessly in every corner of the UK to deliver the largest vaccination programme in our history.’ NHS Confederation said that the milestone is an ‘amazing achievement’ but called for clearer information on how well the vaccines will guard against ever-changing COVID-19 mutations as well as more clarity on the supply and delivery of the vaccines.

Finally, a study from Oxford University shows that the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine provides sustained protection of 76% during the three-month interval until the second dose. After the second dose vaccine efficacy from two standard doses is 82.4% with the three-month interval being used in the UK.

The study supports the 4-12 week prime-boost dosing interval being adopted by the UK. Furthermore, the study indicates that the vaccine may have substantial effect on transmission of the virus with 67% reduction in positive swabs among those vaccinated. This is the first study to show this trend.