CSP and COVID-19..... the story so far

CSP and COVID-19..... the story so far

Posted by on 18 June 2020 | Comments

CSP and COVID19: The story so far……….

I’m sure our story is very similar to others, but I thought I would share how we have got here (June 2020) and our planning going forward.

For me personally, it was very strange how everything escalated at an incredible pace. On 7th March, even though we were aware of Coronavirus and had issued internal instructions on hygiene, washing of hands etc, I was at Twickenham with 79,000 others to see England play Wales, with only the addition of hand sanitisers indicating a difference to the norm. Likewise, on the 8th March, I was at Chelsea with 42,000 watching my team beat Everton 4-0. Again, inklings of changes, but in small proportion. Then..... an avalanche started.

The following week we realised this was different from the ‘flu’ and started to see a negative impact on our industry. The government moved from ‘staying safe’ to a ‘lockdown’ regime within a 5-day window. We, along with other event service providers, survive primarily on mass gathering events, whether concert, sport or otherwise. With a lockdown, we needed to do something... and quickly.

We set out our objectives and communicated them to our staff:

1)     To mitigate the risks to CSP employees of contracting COVID-19

2)     To ensure that the business is able to survive the COVID-19 crisis

3)     To protect long-term employment for all CSP employees

4)     To ensure that CSP is best placed to resume business when the crisis has passed

On the 20th March, having evaluated the business going forward and, at this stage, only fearing that we may lose the summer, we announced to our staff a ‘work from home’ policy with immediate effect and to protect our cashflow, we would all be reducing to a 3 day working week with effect from 1 April 2020.

The following week, the government announced the Job Retention Scheme, or ‘furlough’, which proved to be a lifesaver in order to extend our cashflow projections further. So from 1st April, 80% of our permanent staff went into ‘furlough', with a core retained on a shorter working week. As a business, we ensured that no-one was worse off than on the planned 3 day week. So where the scheme cap was less, we topped up salaries.

The biggest challenge was to adopt this scheme for the casual work force. There was a lot of rumour, confusion and disinformation on how this would work, and it was clear that the government did not understand how zero hours worker contracts worked within the event industry. The rules made clear that you had to ensure holiday entitlement was paid at 100%, so as a business this would mean we would be paying a top up to zero hours workers for holiday entitlement, whilst they were unable to work. These costs are normally calculated into the charge rate to clients, but with no work coming in, this would start to further eat into the cashflow. We were determined to operate this correctly and I'm proud to say we have paid this entitlement. Our first action was to determine which of our casual workforce would qualify for the scheme, and then contact them to get their written and required consent. This was managed by 4 of us including the Chairman and Managing Director, contacting over 800 qualifying individuals to ensure that their written consent was properly recorded.

Over the coming weeks it became apparent how much of a support the scheme was as we realised this was not neccessarily going to be over any time soon. We have taken staff in and out of furlough dependent on work requirements and learned how to use the scheme to maximise benefit, particularly enforcing the 3 week rule and removing access to our server for those furloughed to ensure they couldn’t carry out any work.

Over the last 6-8 weeks it has been interesting to see some of the new work that has come through, including supporting test centres, policing retail and the re-opening of waste sites. It has also been interesting to see how our clients have reacted. Although we communicated our plans and strategies to them early on, it has been an education to see who has contacted us, who has paid outstanding invoices (very important to small/medium companies to keep going) and who has headed ‘for the hills’ i.e. has outstanding invoices but is not engaging at all. This is particularly difficult when you have to pay staff fortnightly, yet those who frequently want the lowest rates are months in arrears. Thankfully the majority of our clients have supported us.

We have ensured we paid all our creditors on time as we know how important cashflow is to them at this time, and we have had to make cost savings wherever possible from SORN’ing vehicles unlikely to be used in the short term to freezing externally produced newsletters to reducing building energy usage due to low occupancy of offices/warehouse and parking cost-based training. The most heart-breaking has been implementing a policy of freezing recruitment, probationary or promotion reviews and not accepting the retraction of any resignations during this period. This has been particularly hard as we have a few people who had resigned this year to take up other posts, only to have those posts withdrawn before they had even fulfilled their notice periods with us, leaving them in limbo: us not being able to extend their notice on furlough, as this would have been wrong, and those individuals going out into an uncertain world with no job. This has been the most difficult aspect as we pride ourselves on being a 'People' business.

We have communicated with our staff regularly and all discovered how to use MS Teams: a product that had sat on our systems for years previously, whilst we all looked at it and wondered why it was there ! (for those that don’t have it, think Outlook and Zoom combined). We have also discovered that working from home is not an excuse to avoid work (well…. for most of us, anyway) but actually a viable option. We have seen examples of those that are 'chomping' at the bit to get back to work and understand the effort being made to protect jobs and some who prefer to stay in 'furlough' regarding it as a holiday. We have also seen proactivity from some on 'furlough', taking alternative temporary work to save up in the knowledge that when this 'furlough' finishes, we will probably still be on a short week.

With racecourses, football, cricket and golf coming back, albeit behind closed doors, we are starting to see a slow return, but we also realise concerts and exhibitions will take much longer than sport as you can’t just open the door and restart: there are tours that need planning and scheduling, hotels and travel to be booked, delegate spaces and tickets to be sold etc

We have created online COVID19 inductions for all our staff, carried out our risk assessments, completed our ‘Staying COVID19 Secure in 2020’ tasks and certification and planned what the new world will look like when the permanent staff come back to work.

Here’s hoping we all survive it...... but with prudent management, careful cost controls, good planning, a team effort and, finally, ‘a little bit of luck’ we should hit our 4 key objectives. The planning reviews won't stop until we clear the final hurdle so the strategy can change weekly, and we are still not clear of considering difficult decisions further on down the line.....but the omens are starting to point towards a recovery.

Lets hope we are all in a much better place this time next year.

Stay Safe !

Tony Nikolic

June 2020