After COVID-19, the Irish Economy faces huge challenges - By Tom Ferris

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After COVID-19, the Irish Economy faces huge challenges - By Tom Ferris

27 April 2020

COVID-19 is having a dramatic impact on Ireland. The Government’s response has been quick, with the introduction of a range of measures in the health, jobs and business sectors. The emphasis has been to protect the health and safety of people from the spread of the virus. The next big challenge will be to design public policies to manage the reopening of the economy after the virus has been contained. The World Bank in its recent economic outlook points out that that will be a difficult task - “Because the economic fallout is acute in specific sectors, policymakers will need to implement substantial targeted fiscal, monetary, and financial market measures to support affected households and businesses domestically” (ref. 1).

 Impact of COVID-19

The impact of COVID-19 on the Irish economy has been widespread. Business closures and lay-offs have been forced to take place right across the country. The retail, hospitality and construction sectors have been particularly badly affected. In this regard, the recent Central Bank Quarterly points out that these sectors – “...where close to 650,000 people are employed, the number of job losses could exceed 500,000 during the current quarter” and “...the combined rate of unemployment may rise to around 25 per cent in coming months”. (ref. 2).

Economic Response to COVID-19

The Government’s responses on the economic front are worth noting. Table I summarises the income supports that have been introduced. It is estimated that these new measures will cost approximately €3.7 billion over the 12 week period. In addition to income supports, the Government has announced a wide range of measures to support business. These include Financial Supports, deferral of Business Rates, Taxation Measures to alleviate short-term difficulties and Banking and Credit measures.

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Table 1: Summary of Income Supports in response to COVID-19

· a temporary wage subsidy off 70% of take home pay up to a maximum weekly tax free amount of €410 per week to help affected companies keep paying their employees. This is the equivalent of €500 per week before tax

· workers who have lost their jobs due to the crisis will receive an enhanced emergency COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment of €350 per week (an increase from €203)

· the COVID-19 illness payment will also be increased to €350 per week

· the self-employed will be eligible for the COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment of €350 directly from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (rather than the Revenue scheme)

· enhanced protections for people facing difficulties with their mortgages, rent or utility bills

Source: Department of Public Expenditure and Reform

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These economic measures will have a very significant negative impact on the Exchequer. However, they are necessary to provide support to workers, their families, and companies at this time of great economic and social stress. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Pascal Paschal Donohoe TD has pointed out that – “The State will be able to fund these measures, but it will generate additional debt which will need to be paid off in the future” (ref 3). The additional borrowing will take place hopefully against a backdrop of a strong improvement in Ireland’s debt position in recent years.

Reopening for business

The big question is when can Ireland reopen for business? The short answer is nobody knows. It depends on the containment of the spread of the virus, both at home and abroad. Two letters of the alphabet are being used to show the rate of recovery, namely the letter ‘V’ and the letter ‘U’. Using the former letter, the suggestion is that there will be a V-shaped recovery, where the economy suffers a sharp but brief period of decline; followed by an equally rapid bounce back. That seems very optimistic. By contrast the letter ‘U’ suggests a somewhat slower pace of recovery and one that is not very strong. Robert Watt, Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform introduced a third possibility, called ‘Nike Swoosh’ which suggests a longer and slower recovery (ref. 4).

If the re-opening of the Irish economy happens at this end of this year, it will coincide with the full impact of Brexit. There have been calls for the UK government to do the “responsible thing” and extend the Brexit transition period, as coronavirus plays havoc with the timetable for an EU-UK deal. There are no suggestions that such calls on the UK Government are being headed.

Challenges in Re-opening the Economy

The lockdown for COVID-19 cannot be lifted in one fell swoop. This will pose a range of challenges for Government. It is clear that Government will have to start by phasing-out the income supports and other sectoral supports that were introduced during the lockdown. At the same time, it will have to consider what supports and initiatives are needed

-       to support companies, as they restart their businesses, and

-       to stimulate investment in areas like housing and infrastructure.

The cost of COVID-19 to the Exchequer also has to be managed. It is already considerable and will increase further. A recent estimate puts it as high as €30 billion or almost 10% of GDP. However, Donal de Buitléir, in a recent policy paper, concludes that – “...the costs of the additional borrowing necessitated by the crisis are affordable. Notwithstanding this, it is desirable that additional borrowing has extended maturity dates and that the funds are spent in a targeted and efficient way” (ref. 5).

The challenges facing businesses are also considerable, particularly if a vaccine for COVID-19 is not found in the immediate future. The hospitality sector has been particularly badly affected. And there is a real risk that many businesses in that sector may never reopen. In the case of pubs, the Licensed Vintners Association has described the possibility of pubs being unable to reopen, until a vaccine for COVID19 is found, as - “...the nightmare scenario for the pub sector which will put many out of business for good” (ref. 6).

Shadows also hang-over the aviation industry and the hotel sector.

The Irish Hotel Federation recently pointed out that – “Over the past few weeks, the industry has been decimated with over 85% of hotels closed and the majority of the 260,000 employees laid off or on short-time” (ref. 7). Accordingly, the Federation is calling on the Government to introduce a series of urgent measures to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on the economy, including the tourism and hospitality industry. 

As regards aviation, Ingrid Cherfis, President of the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC) recently highlighted the fact that – “Europe, like the rest of the world, is at a complete standstill with almost no traffic except for cargo, repatriation and medical flights. The entire aviation system is deeply impacted by the crisis with layoffs and unemployment increasing day by day” (ref. 8).

Clearly there is not very much good news emanating from Covid-19. However, the fact that the economy is much sounder than when it was coming out of the Fiscal Crisis does give some consolation and reason for hope.

References

1.                     International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Economic Outlook, April 2020 https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/WEO/Issues/2020/04/14/weo-april-2020?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery

2.                    Central Bank of Ireland, Quarterly Bulletin 02, April 2020 https://www.centralbank.ie/docs/default-source/publications/quarterly-bulletins/qb-archive/2020/quarterly-bulletin---q2-2020.pdf?sfvrsn=8

3.                    Pascal Donohue TD, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Press Release on COVID-19, 24 March 2020  https://www.gov.ie/en/news/eaad55-government-announces-new-covid-19-income-support-scheme/

4.                    Robert Watt, Ireland’s Covid-19 Crisis Response: Online Conference,   17 April 2020                                   www.publicpolicy.ie

5.                    Donal de Buitléir, Can We Afford the Costs of the Covid-19 Crisis?, PublicPolicy.ie, April 2020     www.publicpolicy.ie

6.                    Licensed Vintners Association, Press Release, April 2020  http://lva.ie

7.                     Irish Hotel Federation, COVID-19 | Hoteliers Call for Urgent Supports to Save Irish Tourism and 260,000 Jobs, www.ihf.ie

8.                     European Civil Aviation Conference, Interview with Ingrid Cherfis, President of ECAC, April 2020                                                   https://www.ecac-ceac.org/news

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SEAI’s Energy Academy Helps Businesses Cut Energy Costs

The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) has launched a free online training resource to help businesses reduce their energy costs. The SEAI Energy Academy can help to lower energy bills by as much as 10%, potentially even more, by educating businesses and employees on changing energy use behaviours and effective energy management. With the increasing societal focus on climate change, and the launch of the Government’s Climate Action Plan last year, many businesses are seeking to play their part in reducing their climate impact. The SEAI Energy Academy is an ideal starting point and allows employees to upskill on energy efficiency and avail of tailored online training that can lead to important business cost savings.

Commenting on the launch of the SEAI Energy Academy, William Walsh, CEO of SEAI said:

“We realise that businesses are facing very significant challenges right now with many looking for opportunities to reduce their cost base. Reducing energy use can be a great place to start. SEAI is here to help businesses on their energy efficiency journey, helping them identify energy saving opportunities and to implement  those changes. We planned the SEAI Energy Academy as an online resource so it is available to all businesses when and where suits them best. This might be additionally beneficial for those businesses currently working from home or who are planning for the resumption of normal activities, hopefully in the not too distant future.”

The SEAI Energy Academy offers practical step-by-step energy training tailored to specific business needs. The online modules and courses are quick and easy to complete and cover topics such asEnergy and Climate Change; Business Energy Efficiency; Lighting; Heating; Refrigeration; Electric Vehicles; Electricity Bill Analysis; Behavioural Change; and Home Energy Efficiency. Further modules are planned for the SEAI Energy Academy which will make it a vital business energy resource into the future, and will be added throughout the year

On completing a course, learners will receive a Certificate of Completion from SEAI which demonstrates a company’s commitment to educating staff about energy. These courses are also a great way of engaging, upskilling and retaining staff.  

The SEAI Energy Academy is now available on www.seai.ie/energyacademy

 

The post SEAI’s Energy Academy Helps Businesses Cut Energy Costs appeared first on Linkline Journal - Ireland.

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When Should You Solve, Train And Delegate as a Leader

A new leader faces this dilemma often. “Should I do the task myself, train my team, or delegate it?” I am sure you have encountered the same puzzle before. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. The problem is more common than you think.

When I started my first venture, I wanted to do everything myself.

If a task was too hard, I feared to assign it to a team member. “What if they mess up?” I asked myself biting my fingernails. If a task required grooming people, I would think, “Well, doing the job myself will take lesser time than training.”

For a large project, I wanted to involve myself down to the very last detail.

Do these examples sound like the situation you’re into right now? Let me tell you what happened to my story. Such behavior of mine severely crippled the team. I failed to utilise the talent people had. Over time, the business failed.

Common mental blocks for leaders

Leaders have different mental barriers in their heads. I will list out three of the most common ones. These are more prominent in people who take up a leadership role after being an expert technician in a specific field. An individual contributor has difficulty shifting his mindset from executing tasks to leading people.

1. I can do the job myself

When a task needs action, you start evaluating the ease of completing the job against the effort required to train people. Since you have spent years developing expertise, you will need lesser time to do it yourself than training a new person. The joy which comes out of doing the job yourself also plays a role.

The first time I played the role of a leader was for a team of programmers. I had loved writing code since my teenage years. All of a sudden, I felt uncomfortable training the team members to do the job. My hands were itching to do some programming myself.

2. I need to be the expert

Leaders have trouble accepting the fact that team members can know more about a topic than they do. You believe the leader has to be the most talented person in the team.

During our business venture, I wanted to learn every technology in extreme detail. I intended to be capable enough to answer any query the team had. I spent most of my time developing expertise in programming even after I took up a leadership role.

3. The team member won’t deliver the same quality

Leaders often hesitate to delegate tasks because they fear that the team member will perform an average job.

You feel that even if you train a team member, he won’t deliver the quality you can. You forget that when you started as a beginner, you weren’t as capable as you are right now. To ensure things don’t go wrong, you take up the task yourself.

I had the habit of taking up all the tougher portions of programming myself. I wasn’t trying to brag about my abilities. I thought the team members wouldn’t accomplish the task. Due to that mental barrier, I never even tried assigning the harder tasks to the team members.

When should a leader solve, train, and delegate:

You cannot keep doing all the tasks yourself forever. Over time, you will become a bottleneck and prevent yourself from achieving great things.

Try taking a page of the successful leaders of large organisations. They relinquished control and tapped into the talent of people to achieve greatness. A great leader sets the vision and achieves it with teamwork. Even the famous movie stars, sports icons, and singers have a massive team working for them.

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