Hull entrepreneur behind Business Bounce Back campaign steps up a gear

A Hull entrepreneur has emerged at the helm of a campaign calling for a business-led push to keep the economy on track and protect people’s livelihoods.

Gerard Toplass has created Business Bounce Back, calling for a recovery based on a roadmap produced for the good of society. 

He triggered a Change.org petition at the height of lockdown with the aim of uniting public and private sector leaders to achieve the best possible outcome from the pandemic.

Mr Toplass, and the hundreds of company bosses backing it, have called on the government to work closely with the business community to ensure they have the resources, skills and inspiration needed to protect jobs, innovate and grow their way out of the Covid-19 crisis.

Buoyed by the support, the executive chairman of Pagabo, the Hull-based national construction framework provider and Spyro, a software business, said: “The Business Bounce Back campaign has moved sharply into second gear.

“Now that companies and staff are either getting back to the office or planning to over the coming weeks and months, we are pleased to see the government encouraging and supporting businesses take responsibility for their employees.

“But, with big businesses already announcing staff reviews and job cuts, it’s clear that the business community needs to move fast to bridge a massive void when the Coronavirus Job Retention scheme starts to scale back. Business Bounce Back’s overwhelming message to government and businesses is to act quickly, think differently – and promote confidence at a time when we need it most.”

High street names Boots and John Lewis have announced big job cuts since Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s announcements, while British Airways, DFDS and many others had also unveiled significant reduction intentions ahead of it.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak delivers a summer economic update in a statement to the House of Commons, London
(Image: PA Wire/PA Images)

The Business Bounce Back campaign is urging businesses to do all they can to protect as many jobs as possible as we move into the next stage of recovery.

Around one million companies are preparing to start weaning themselves off the Job Retention Scheme – which covers the wage bill of almost nine million workers, costing £14 billion a month.

A one-off payment to employers for every furloughed employee retained to the end of January 2021 has now been put in place.

Mr Toplass said: “History suggests that economic crises can be a catalyst for innovation. The Covid-19 pandemic will no doubt have stalled and even stopped forward-thinking businesses and entrepreneurs in their tracks. However, ensuring that every industry sector is propelled by innovation and creative thinking will be more important than ever as we look to protect and then create the jobs that will see our economy come back stronger than it was before.

“The government must recognise this and do all it can to support new ideas and creativity. The recent announcement of the £200m Support Innovation Fund is a step in the right direction but more must be done. Providing funding is ideal for businesses that have already generated new ideas, but many companies need assistance to get to that point. The government should be looking to provide training and supportive tools that help companies to think more creatively.

“Also, businesses can help one another – a culture of sharing and collaborating to grow ideas together must be instilled and the UK government must do all it can to bring this to life.”

Gerard Toplass, executive chairman at Pagabo
(Image: Cartwright Communications)

Born in Hull, Mr Toplass started out as an accountant, and education, manufacturing and technology have been strong pillars throughout his career. “The outlook for UK jobs is the worst it’s been in almost 30 years, and GDP fell by a record 20.4 per cent in April alone,” he said. “It’s reported that companies across the economy’s main sectors are more likely to cut jobs than they are to hire people from July to September.

“Commentators are predicting mass redundancy, and that’s on top of the one million hospitality workers who have already lost their jobs. We are pleased to see steps being made to keep this industry going with the announcement of a six-month reduction in VAT and the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme, encouraging consumers back into hospitality outlets.

“Businesses are preparing to return to work, the lockdown restrictions are being eased in most places and shops are re-opening. But the impact of Covid-19 isn’t behind us. We won’t know the full impact of unemployment rates until the furlough scheme ends in October, but the new initiatives encouraging employers to get people back from furlough, as well as to create new jobs for young people and apprentices intend to make this impact less severe.

“Corporates that know their staff have no jobs to return to in October, I believe, should be thinking proactively about what they do to avoid letting their people go to a jobless market. “The UK needs options to fuel economic recovery and promote confidence.

“Businesses may be looking to lay off staff, but can they support skills and training to help create the next wave of entrepreneurs and start-up businesses across the country. By doing so, those corporates can help the UK bounce back fast, help drive new jobs and reduce the impact on local communities.”

The UK business community has a responsibility to the public to do its best for people and the economy, added Mr Toplass, who has attracted former civil service head Lord Bob Kerslake to the board of his Old Town high-growth ventures.

Could more help emerge from the famous red case?
(Image: Getty Images)

“It’s also vitally important that we encourage government to keep supporting our people – and it’s crucial for business owners to think innovatively before laying off staff. For instance, could those people be offered part-time roles or short-term contracts as alternatives?” he added.

“Could business communities work together to consider job share schemes and promote their sectors to potential employees? Perhaps corporate organisations could collaborate to offer cross-sector training in order to upskill or retrain individuals for other markets.

“For instance, in my sector – construction – we have had a massive skills gap for years because it isn’t considered appealing by many young people who now clamour for jobs in what they see as ‘sexier’ office roles. It’s also one area where we have been seeing countless announcements of job cuts over recent weeks.

“The Summer Statement announced initiatives aimed at getting more young people – dubbed ‘Kickstarters’ – into new roles, with incentives for businesses to create apprenticeship roles. This is the portion of the working population that is set to be hardest hit by the pandemic, and redistribution of these workers into new roles can help with existing issues such as the construction skills gap.”

He said there was opportunity that must be taken to outline how digitalisation and innovation is transforming the way the UK designs and builds, and how head-turning technology is now found in many careers previously disregarded.

“It’s crucial that we all reveal that the new ways we operate are transforming the world we live in – and that the unemployed need support and confidence, not to be left high and dry and jobless. And this is the time to encourage entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship,” Mr Toplass added.

“If we don’t act now, there will be catastrophic consequences for the UK. “Right now, the priority has been to fight Covid-19 but we also have to do all we can to stave off a deep and long-lasting recession, which will have a massive impact on working families, jobs and living standards.

“If we don’t act quickly, we will have a broken economy with mass unemployment, a debt crisis, massive problems with our education system and the NHS, thousands of people with mental health issues, and social disorder.”

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