How is Manchester and its businesses reacting to the COVID-19 crisis?

As part of our increased commitment to the North of England, we wanted to take a closer look at how Manchester businesses are coping with COVID-19 pandemic.

Who is struggling? Who is thriving? And which companies are bending over backward to support their community?

Manchester shut down

A report issued by the Learning and Work Institute has revealed some harsh truths, one of which is that 18% of jobs in Greater Manchester are in ‘shut down’ sectors.

This is higher than any other UK region, meaning the city faces the greatest threat of job losses, the analysis found.

Mark Hughes, CEO of The Growth Company, says that for most Manchester businesses “20% or more of their workforce was unavailable during the lockdown.”

Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham has also said: “Though our Local Enterprise Partnership and Business Growth Hub we are listening to businesses and doing everything we can to protect them.”

The Growth Company

To help tackle this, initiatives are springing up in order to try and help businesses. The Growth Company and GC Business Growth Hub have been providing support and resources to SMEs in the city region since 1989.

Since COVID-19, they’ve launched Employ GM, which connects employers that have urgent temporary vacancies with those looking for work.

Burnham comments: “We’re in no doubt about the challenges that many businesses throughout our city-region are facing, which is why we’ve been working hard from the outset with The Growth Company and other partners to put in place all the support we can.

“All of the actions that we take now are going to determine how we move forward after this, which is why we’re helping businesses, sole traders and self-employed business owners to plan ahead and even second workers to where they’re needed most. Greater Manchester always comes together in challenging times, and this has been no exception.”

Online events on the rise

Like many, the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce has also been forced to cancel it’s regular networking events and events across the city have stopped.

To ensure that it’s still able to support members, the Chamber has increased it’s online offering.

Working closely with Manchester’s LEP, GM Chamber is sign-posting businesses to important government information as well as hosting member webinars, sending emails and conducting surveys.

On how the pandemic is affecting business generally, Subrahmaniam Krishnan-Harihara, Head of Research at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, elaborates: “The results of a recent Business Monitor reveal a further decline in business confidence levels. With demand at historic lows and no clarity on when improvements in the public health situation could lead to a relaxation of the lockdown, there has been a dramatic decline in optimism amongst business leaders.

“Awareness of the various business support measures announced by the government is quite high but not as many businesses are applying for government support. Various concerns have been expressed about the administration of support measures and the speed with which businesses can access them. The most popular scheme is the Job Retention Scheme, which 43% of respondents are hoping to benefit from.”

Who Is Helping Manchester?

There have always been organisations like The Growth Company and the Chamber in Manchester that’s sole mission is to help Manchester thrive.

However, the COVID-19 crisis has seen others in the city step forward to help and support.

For example, Manchester-based ActiveWin Media Group has announced that it will support e-commerce brands during the Covid-19 crisis by offering free auditing services for PPC, display media, SEO, social, CRM, and live chat reviews for struggling businesses.

The free audit is perfect for mid-to-enterprise level brands that rely on digital acquisition and lead generation.

ActiveWin is already working with dozens of businesses, who have discovered that their in-house teams are so busy with the daily frenetic pace of e-commerce, it often results in missed opportunities because analytic data isn’t scrutinised enough.

Business Leader spoke with MD Warren Jacobs, who said: “Over the years, we’ve developed solid relationships with our client’s in-house marketing teams because we take care of the time-consuming functions that help conversion so they can focus on great UX and customer journeys.

“Essentially, we are an extension of a clients’ marketing team, not a replacement of it. Once we had steadied the ship for clients, we decided to look outwards at ways to help the wider business community with available resources. The best way to do that is to share information that highlight gaps in current media bidding strategies that burn through spend or don’t take advantage of opportunities.

“This insight will also put businesses in a much stronger position when the crisis finally lifts to restore the economy quicker. It’s as simple as that.”

Code Nation

To also try and help the Manchester business cause, Code Nation extended its business-led training courses during lockdown via their virtual learning environment, enabling those recently furloughed to reskill and join the digital workforce.

Business owners who wish to upskill their team, or who are facing the tough decision on whether to furlough staff, can now take some comfort in the opportunity that allows any furloughed member of staff to be retrained during the furloughed period – helping both the team member to access future career opportunities and the business to digitally transform their workforce.

Code Nation’s Former CEO, Andy Lord comments: “Given the unprecedented situation regarding COVID-19, we want to help more people improve their technical knowledge and gain skills that will make them employable in the modern workforce. Our virtual classroom provides students with the ability to learn and engage with us no matter where they are.”

Furloughed Life

With the furlough scheme now coming to an end and a recent announcement by government that it would reward companies that bring back furloughed staff, it was interesting to see how even the concept of furlough sparked an idea in the city.

Furloughed Life was founded to bring volunteers (the furloughed staff) and the tech startups together by creating volunteer opportunities for those that are furloughed.

Manoj Ranaweera of Techcelerate comments: “As soon as the pandemic started, we had to change our focus for 2020 from building the next phase of Techcelerate to ensuring the survival of our tech company members. As customers slowed down buying new products and services built by our companies, their survival instead became the number one priority.

“The realisation that furloughed staff could help with this whilst gaining invaluable skills and experience led me to team up with Chris McCarthy and Ram Raghavan to launch Furloughed Life.”

To conclude, it seems there is a huge collective effort being brought to life in Manchester to help support businesses and the community. Covid-19 is testing the city’s resilience but there is a sense that by sticking together, it will survive and thrive.