LSIP Director responds to impact of Covid-19 on tenants
The Covid-19 crisis presents a particular challenge for our industry. After the last election, the Government were pitching the innovation sector as a crucial element in addressing regional imbalance in the UK’s economy and a means to address our competitiveness internationally.
A few short weeks later, the full attention of the state became focused on fighting both this novel virus and the economic impact it is having. Saving businesses and jobs has become the order of the day. Many of the schemes announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak are helping those in our industries. A large number of firms in our community have benefited from the small business grant scheme and chose to furlough staff.
Nevertheless, there are those R&D companies who rely on external investment whilst they prepare new products that have faced a particular challenge. For many, they have a finite runway before they run out of cash and, even with staff furloughed, the lengthening of this runway is potentially devastating. Sadly, it became clear that the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) is not easily accessible to such businesses due to the determination of their viability.
We at Lincoln Science & Innovation Park, together with colleagues in the UK Science Park Association, lobbied government and its agents, such as the British Business Bank, to address the gap between their clear belief in the importance of the innovation sector and the unsuitability of the emergency provisions to support that sector. We also worked hard to support businesses in trouble by providing introductions to alternative debt providers, who seem to be applying a more nuanced approach to CBILS.
Now that the Covid-19 threat is, perhaps temporarily, receding, the Government will need to decide how to rebuild the economy. Clearly, with such huge cheques being written to place businesses into hibernation, the Government will face a choice; follow through with its capital investment plans regardless to address both regional and international economic challenges or cut its cloth according to the debt now incurred.
We argue that, for the innovation sector in particular, continuing future investment is essential. The power of modern technology has already been demonstrated in the global reaction to Covid-19 compared to previous pandemics. The genetic sequence to SARS-Cov-2 was published on January 12th, within 6-weeks of the Covid-19 disease being identified. This gives huge advantages in tracking the origin of the virus, its mutability and weaknesses. We will likely have a widely available vaccine in 2021. Different countries have used smartphone technology to monitor and contain the virus by tracking the social interactions of infected persons.
Clearly, there are ethical and sociological considerations that need to be addressed with this huge availability of data. However, the value of modern technology to restrict the morbidity of novel viruses is a huge argument to push that technology further. If the UK can be at the forefront of that technology edge, in every sector not just those which relate to pandemics, then we can do wonderful things for the world as well as transforming for the better large parts of our own economy and regions. It just requires an ambitious government to put the innovation sector back at the heart of its strategy.
Lincoln Science & Innovation Park Director