THE seismic changes to the way we live our lives caused by Covid-19 are causing many businesses in Oxfordshire to make big changes, according to OxLEP, the local enterprise partnership.

As more of the economy unlocks, some sectors are finding things have fundamentally changed.

Helen Brind, the Growth Hub Manager at OxLEP, says the coronavirus experience has led to major change.

She added: “It’s an unprecedented situation and while the economy is beginning to unlock, it is clearly a cause for concern and disruption for businesses of all sizes and – unfortunately – this will be the likely situation for the foreseeable future.”

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OxLEP Business is expecting demand to grow from SME businesses to acquire the skills, insights and support needed to rebuild or grow in difficult circumstances.

Local authorities too have found the nature of calls beginning to change from enquiries about finance to wider advice. This has included a growing need to signpost to Oxfordshire Mind as the mental stress of the crisis takes its toll.

Graham Ballantyne, Director of UK Business Mentoring, has worked with local authorities offering workshops and 121 mentoring to help businesses survive and be ready for the new-look economy.

“The questions from businesses are increasingly about what they can do to re-open and recover. Too many people have found it difficult to appreciate how much has changed. The simple fact is that customers attitudes, values and habits are different, so it’s crucial businesses find out about these changes and work out what they need to do to reach them. It is businesses understanding what their customers now want and reacting to these realities who will survive.”

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James Anderson from the Federation of Small Businesses in Thames Valley said: “We are telling the government to focus on support for the new skills businesses need when it comes to the next round of spending to help out enterprise. Sadly, some businesses will not make it, so the priority has to be to protect jobs through upskilling in existing businesses and giving help to those who can recover. They will be the ones in a position to grow in the future and help grow the economy.”

Rogers Metal Management at Nuneham Courtenay realised it needed to do things differently and has made significant changes to how it operates during the lockdown.

According to Donna Rogers, they now see they have an important role in the growing reuse and recycle, circular economy. “We have completely changed how we talk about our business. We relaunched our website and embraced social media to reach new customers and talk about the business in a new way.”

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OxLEP too has recognised its own SME support programmes are well placed to provide access to the insights and skills needed. Current support for businesses includes its ISfB programme which is helping enterprises of all types who are innovating. This includes businesses finding they need to ‘pivot’ to find a new market or change how they service customers because they have changed because of their experiences during Covid-19.

Its eScalate programme is also focusing on businesses with good potential to grow as well as social enterprises and businesses with a social or environmental purpose.

Ms Brind added: “Despite the challenges of working virtually, we were quick to adapt our mode of delivery, overseeing a variety of business support programmes, helping hundreds of businesses at this critical time. We will continue to adapt our support accordingly.”

Amongst the support for skills and training, it is helping businesses to set up apprenticeship placements.

“It is a critical time for the economy and with last week’s announcement from the Chancellor Rishi Sunak of £2,000 per placement and more help for those over the age of 25, there is a lot of potential for more enterprising companies” said Ms Brind.

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OxLEP is also offering companies a Skills Needs Assessment, something vital for planning new post-COVID-19 needs.

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