The D&G Business Network was set up by the staff team at Robinsons in Lockerbie to bring together business leaders to share their pandemic experiences and swap information – and now has 879 members.
Robinsons’ managing director Ryan Brown explained how it came about: “This was set up from a discussion at the start of lockdown with our team. This was a completely new scenario that no one has had to deal with previously and we wanted to do something to aid our local business community. We knew there would be a lot of businesses like us who would need support and a sense of alliance.
“Our team set the group up and within 24 hours 100s of businesses joined, sharing all their own questions and anxieties about it all.
“With over 800 members, we hope to keep this group alive beyond Covid-19.”
Meanwhile, he is looking to the future and making plans for a new way of working for the Robinsons’ team. Describing some of the changes coming on board, Ryan said: “We are utilising technology to allow our teams to reduce travel whilst keeping regular communication with our customers and teammates with the likes of video conferencing. Sourcing high levels of PPE, hygiene and cleaning products is a challenge but is most definitely a vital resource for all businesses to stockpile for the year ahead. And we are planning new ways of flexible working, staggered start/finish times and new office, factory and site layouts to adhere to social distancing guidelines which we can only expect to be in place for at least the next 18 months.
“This is, however, a perfect time for diversification on how business is done.”
It is the firm’s busiest time of year for work within the agricultural sector and Ryan hopes lockdown restrictions will soon ease. He said: “We have customers who need silage pits and storage facilities ready for crop season as well as additional or renewed animal housing in time for the winter, which means we, like many others working in these key sectors, need to be able to work to help keep these industries moving.
“Through working with the DG Chamber and discussions with fellow business owners, the consensus is that the local economy cannot sustain the lockdown for much longer, we all need to find a safe way to open businesses back up in a gradual manner.”
He believes the Dumfries and Galloway economy has ‘undoubtedly taken a setback’ as a result and said: “Cash flow for everyone from the self-employed to limited companies will become an issue the longer we are all either closed or working on restricted basis. We are fortunate to be kept very busy with enquiries, though some sectors, including the public sector, have slowed up in regards to active opportunities and many have been put on hold.
“Sadly, some businesses may struggle to recover from this or need to streamline their business model and staffing levels. We have utilised the furlough scheme to maintain staffing levels the best we can but sadly we have had to make the difficult decision to reduce numbers in some areas of the business.”
And Ryan is frustrated with the mixed messages and different timescales from the Westminster and Holyrood governments, adding: “If you are a business who like us working UK wide, meeting the expectations of customers whilst following government guidelines does cause some implications. Running a business so close to the border also means that supplies that would normally be purchased north of the border, in our local area, are being sourced south of the border from companies who are back fully functioning.
“Although we fully support that health comes first and must be the primary focus throughout this, the difference in legislation we are currently experiencing undoubtedly gives our English competitors an advantage.”