Anne Marie Chebib, UKCMA Secretary and Managing Director at Select Security & Stewarding Ltd discusses the widespread impact of Coronavirus on our industry.

The most recent developments in the fight against COVID-19 have made it clear to all that there will be a significant impact on the Crowd Management industry.

As I sit here writing this, things are changing by the moment, so to give any advice on specific current developments is challenging at best, and counterproductive at worst.

The important thing now is deciding how you will deal with these challenges, to ensure your business not only survives but is ready to hit the ground running once life returns to ‘normal’.  Which it will!

Playing to the strengths of the industry

By its very nature, the industry already has the knowledge and skills in place to plan for uncertainty; to analyse potential scenarios, assess possible outcomes and determine proportionate responses.  This is what we do on a daily basis, so are better placed to deal with the crisis than many other businesses.

We are all used to working on fast-paced, ever-changing events, which demand dynamic management. There will be a need to apply the skills and knowledge we normally use to deliver other people’s events to our own situation.

Whilst in other sectors, panic may be setting in, our industry is already demonstrating resilience and adaptation.  As one dear client emailed: ‘This is not our first rodeo– I think all we can do is keep going with the planning and try to stay on track with everything (I know it’s difficult to concentrate on anything right now!)’.

Proactive sector-wide initiatives have already started appearing, for example the petition to offer economic assistance to the events industry during COVID-19 had, at the time of writing, gathered over 70,000 signatures.  I’d urge you to add your name to this if you haven’t already;

The Events Industry Forum (EIF) has also written to the government on behalf of 25 trade bodies representing the UK outdoor events industry to ask for support in helping our sector to come through the current crisis. This letter requested clearer guidance from Government, sooner rather than later, and more detailed information about bridging loans, grants or the underwriting of certain risks.  The letter went on to request “recognition that it will take a considerable time for many to recover the losses they incur from this and will need support over a period to do this.  Unfortunately, help such as Business rates relief and grants will not apply to many in our industry.”

So, who should we trust?

There is an overwhelming amount of information and comment out there, with every arm-chair scientist chipping in with their own (often inaccurate) take on the situation.  By all means lean on your peers and colleagues for support, but for your own sanity, use media and social media as a resource only, and share/ repost from validated sources. Your words can impact for good or bad, and it is too easy to disappear down that virtual rabbit hole…

It is challenging assimilating all the information coming in, and to extract the facts from the utter nonsense amidst all of the ‘noise’.  Look to trusted and official sources for your information and keep up to date with the latest advice from Public Health and Government guidance.

For some useful, constantly updated sources, see the links at the end of this article, but remember that this is a rapidly evolving situation.

That said, even the World Health Organisation, the NHS and Public Health England are giving conflicting advice, so don’t be surprised if you cannot make head nor tail of this constant information bombardment – you are not alone! 

Contingency Plans

Contingency planning is at the core of our industry, and it’s what we are trained for. We need to think about every aspect of our businesses, whether stakeholders, supply chains, staff or public.  

As it is anticipated that the epidemic will not peak for several more weeks in the UK, reviewing short and mid-term commitments will be priority to many. Staff communication, protection and education is high on the agenda for many member companies which have large numbers of employees or workers. Public perception will be as important as the facts, and it will have a significant impact on behaviour.

Contact your clients and suppliers to discuss your and their cancellation policies.  Remember that you will be working with these people once this is all over and it will be far better to try and reach amicable solutions.  

Start to put measures in place now for home working, as a decision to limit public movement or the need to self-isolate may come at very short notice.  You may want to consider reviewing your cyber security and GDPR policies and guidelines if data and/or equipment is being taken out of the office.  Encourage staff, where applicable, to start taking laptops home each night and to test access to servers, work emails, shared folders etc.  It sounds obvious, but where possible, consider changing face-to-face meetings to teleconferencing to avoid unnecessary travel.

For some, it may be worth reviewing your business insurance policies or speaking to your insurance provider to understand what may or may not be covered in the event of a contract cancellation.

For many, it will be business as usual.  Some requirements are going ahead, and there are a number of considerations for those with teams going out.

Review the activities, anticipate and proactively plan for the risk level: 

– what are the anticipated audience numbers?

– where they are likely to have travelled from, e.g. a known infected area?

– how they will have travelled to the event?

– what is the expected crowd density?

– what is the audience make-up (average age, any vulnerable attendees e.g. elderly etc.)?

– how will the crowds engage with each other and your team?

Review measures in place to safeguard your team and prevent the spread of COVID-19:

– are there sufficient hand-washing facilities on site?

– what processes are in place to communicate COVID-19 preventative measures pre-event to your team e.g. not to come to work if symptomatic, regular hand-washing, not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth, no shaking hands or hugging etc.?

– what processes are in place to deal with staff or audiences who come to the event but show signs of a cough or fever?

– what distancing measures could be employed to reduce close contact?

– what data capture is in place to support follow-up activity if a suspected transmission of COVID-19 takes place?

Duty of care

During this challenging time, you not only have a duty of care to your staff but also yourselves.  Looking after the mental health of your teams is just as important as their physical health.

There are a number of simple steps we can all take to minimise anxiety and stress at this time:

  1. Keep yourself informed. As already stated though, only use official and reliable sources for your information.  Don’t listen to speculation.
  2. Keep talking. Keep channels of communication open with staff, suppliers, clients and other stakeholders.
  3. Reach out. Familiarise yourself with the support networks out there – mental health, Samaritans, debt helplines – and share these with your team.
  4. You’re not alone! In the event of self-isolation or home working use tech to stay in contact.  Feeling part of a community via a Whatsapp group or chatting to a friend or colleague via Skype will help.

Business support

As part of the aims of the UKCMA, we are here to fight our member’s corner with guidance, industry-wide initiatives and comment on national policy, come what may.

A number of coronavirus initiatives were announced in the budget which could offer support for SMEs and the self-employed including:

– Firms with fewer than 500 staff will be refunded for sick payments for two weeks.

– SMEs will be able to access ‘business interruption’ loans of up to £1.2million.

– Self-employed staff or those on 0 hours contracts will be able to claim contributory Employment Support Allowance if they have to self-isolate and cannot claim sick pay.

Further details can be found here Government guidance for employees, employers and businesses- click here.

Some further business support initiatives include:

– The nature of the industry means many of you will employ freelancers.  Any members of your team who self-assess and who are anticipating making a payment in July should consider contacting HMRC to ask for a reduction in their payments on account if they are now expecting a reduced income for 2019/20 and even 2020/21.

– HMRC have launched a tax helpline to help businesses concerned about paying their tax due to coronavirus (COVID-19). The number is 0800 0159 559.

– There is a scaled-up Business Support Helpline so businesses in England, of all sizes, can pick up the phone and speak directly to an advisor.  The number to call is 0300 456 3565. 

– Companies House has produced guidance if coronavirus (COVID-19) has affected your company and if you need more time to file your accounts- click here.

The next few months 

After the last UK recession, the companies which survived were the ones ready to ‘hit the ground running’ once the economy recovered: the cultural and sporting industries bounced back faster than many others, with events and festivals returning quickly.

In the event of cancellations, with the obvious financial caveats, there is the opportunity for wider strategic review.  Activities such as staff training, system upgrades, revisiting and updating your mid to long-term business plan – all things that often drop to the bottom of the ‘to do’ list due to time constraints – will mean you’re in better shape once life returns to normal.

Renewing or developing networks, again something that often falls by the wayside when we are busy, can not only help secure future business but can provide support and advice during this challenging period. 

If you are already a member of the UKCMA and have any queries, concerns or thoughts to share on the current situation, then do get in touch at those of you who have not yet joined the Association you can find some further information here  You’re not alone, we’re here to help!

Useful sources of information/ further links:
UK Government and Public Health England – click here
Centres for Disease Control and Prevention – click here
The World Health Organisation – click here
You can also visit Visit Britain’s website where we continue to share advice for businesses and links to key updates and information.