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Coronavirus – The Catalyst for Global Change?

Unless you have been living on the Cook Islands for the last few months, you will have heard of Corona Virus, now known as COVID 19.

The virus is officially a global pandemic, and is now rampaging across every continent, leaving a trail of dead.

Here in the United Kingdom, we are in a state of national emergency, and state-sanctioned lockdown is in effect, with only absolutley essential journeys authorised. All retail shops except those selling essential supplies such as food, maedicines and perhaps bizzarely, alcohol are closed.

The London Underground has shut stations across its network, and passengers figures are plummeting.

Stations shut as a result of Coronavirus

Working at home has been the norm for many workers. As a result, the economy is in freefall, with the retail and hospitality sectors being worst hit. Clubs, pubs, cinemas, churches, sports centres, museums and public buildings are now all closed for the immediate future.

The aviation and maritime sectors have been quick to feel the impact of travel restrictions, and many airports are struggling as flights have become virtually non-existent, passenger traffic stagnated, and many airlines now trying to mitigate their losses by flying freight.

Flight Radar 24 – Screenshot showing flights in South East England. This was taken mid morning on the 13th April 2020. This airspace would normally be teeming with traffic, given that this is a Public Holiday in the UK.

Whilst the global shutdown is severely damaging both our manufacturing and financial economies, we are reaping some form of benefit; pollution levels have dropped across the planet, and air quality is improving.

Imagery from the Copernicus Programme’s Sentinel 5P satellite. The left hand image shows Nitrous Oxide pollution over France and Italy. Darker Red is higher levels of pollution. The right hand image shows how the levels and extent have reduced throughout the month of March 2020

It’s not just transport that contributes to atmospheric pollution – industrial and manufacturing activities have fallen across the UK and Europe as countries shutdown their economies to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

This shows that it is possible to stop climate change, but the societal costs are far too high to make this acceptable.

I do believe that when the virus is contained or burnt out, we will emerge from lockdown and social distancing as a changed society.

So, what may happen?

Many firms that up until recently were resistant to their employees working remotely will have seen that some of their “trust issues” have been proved to be unfounded and that staff have been as productive, if not more productive that when working at the office.

Bearing in mind the cost of office space, many companies may find the savings realised by using smaller premises make remote working desirable.

After a major pandemic such as this one, people may be far more cautious about personal hygeine, and become much more concerned to see that public areas are properly sanitised. This could have an effect on the practice of hot desking at work.

The travelling public will probably also need to see evidence that public transport is cleaned and sanitised far more regulalrly and effectively than currently.

The lack of public trust in the health security of public transport could trigger more car use, as people seek to protect themselves with more regularised self isolating. Even car sharing could become less popular as people choose not ot sit in close proximity with another individual on their commute.

Who can really say?

If thousands more people take up remote working, there may well be more economic pain ahead for public transport operators.

Railway and air journeys that used to be undertaken for business meetings may well now be conducted using video conferencing using internet platforms such as Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams.

Will our current level of communications network provision be sufficient to accommodate this?

Individuals that were reluctant to order shopping on-line, or use home delivery services prior to COVID 19 have now been using them out of necessity, and many of these people will now be sold on the advantages, leading to further decline of England’s high streets.

Individuals that were previously regular patrons of theatre and cinema will have become adept at streaming movies and watching “live” performances from the comfort of their own homes, using YouTube, Netflix or Amazon Prime.

The question is – will they return to the cinemas and thatres with quite the same degree of regularity as they did before?

It seems that the mainstream media have been focusing on the leisure and retail industries and whilst they do report on the struggle for our manufacturing industries, they do not highlight the underlying problems.

In the UK there is evidence that our contingency planning for a “Hard Brexit” triggered our government to closely examine our logisitcal supply chains with the involvement of the retail and distirbution industries, and this has surely helped ensure that truly essential items remained on the supermarket shelves, despite the media-induced panic buying.

The other aspect to this is the lack of resilience that our manufacturers have against supply chain failures.

Whilst numerous products are proudly made here in the UK, few are totally built here. Huge numbers of manufacturers import sub-assemblies, parts and components from overseas which are used to build their product.

The world’s biggest exporter, China, is, to all intents and purposes, the birthplace of COVID19, and also its primary exporter. The subsequent lockdown of the Chinese economy led to an abundance of British manufacturers struggling to obtain the raw materials, parts, components and sub-components needed to build and sell their own products..

This may result in a baseline realignment of our logisitical networks, and maybe re-initiate inward investment.

Who knows, we may see a slow transformation back into a manufacturing economy again.

This is a bit of a mixed bag then; at more localised levels the possible resulting drop in bus and train usage could lead to more cars on the road, each contributing to climate change. On the other hand, more people at home reduces traffic of any kind on the roads.

There are so many possible futures that could result from the aftermath of CV19, which only action at government level can establish.

This could be a great opportunity for each state to re-evaluate its’s strategies for handling pandemics, and may trigger new systems to increase the robustness of manufacturing bases.

Who knows, it may even give us the required impetus to design an improved model for society that will offer progress on controlling our nemesis of irreversible climate change.

Go Well…

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Discount For Cash? Not for much Longer!

The barmaid passed the pint of Forward Pass[1] over the bar to me, smiling.

Locally made, and perfect for glugging during the Six Nations!

“Thanks” I grinned, holding my smartphone out.

Grabbing the electronic card reader, she held it to my phone, which dutifully chirped, signifying that the £3.60 had been transferred from my current account into the club’s coffers.

Sooo easy to spend your money like this!

Taking my pint to a quiet table, I sat down, musing about the transaction.

Only two years ago, my club would only accept a card payment if the transaction value was over ten pounds. This was to cover the 2.0% transaction fee levied by the card processing company.

Not being a heavy drinker, I rarely spent over ten pounds during a post-work visit to the club, except on Friday nights, when I would meet with the “Last of the Summer Wine” crew and I would stand my round.

So, on Fridays, I would always hit the ATM at the Co-Op on the way home and withdraw enough cash to cover me for the weekend, and for coffees and snacks at work for the following week.

Two things have caused a seismic shift in how we pay for things.

In 2014 Apple introduced Apple Pay, enabling contactless payment transactions to be made using Apple smartphones. Initially, like a lot of people, I was suspicious of this as a means of payment.

Quick and Easy – Apple Pay from my Smartphone…

However, six years of advances in security including the use of thumbprints and facial recognition technology has meant that I now feel much more comfortable with using my phone to pay for items.

Some retail outlets such as Tesco’s limit the maximum contactless transaction value to £30.00, but in many places, including department stores and garages it is still possible to pay using a smartphone or a debit card.

The other thing that initiated a quantum shift in payment methods is that the UKGovernment banned debit and credit card surcharges on January 13th 2018.

All of a sudden, retailers were no longer able to charge for the use of a debit card or credit card payment, so almost overnight the need to carry cash became far less urgent.

So, is cash being phased out as a means for paying for goods and services?

Cash has been with us for over 30,000 years, before written history – and evidence of accounting using tally sticks goes back to the later stages of the stone age.

The Ancient Roman author and scholar Pliny the Elder (AD23- AD79) writes of the best woods to use for tally sticks.

Cash is a meaningful and tangible token of worth, and is universally accepted within a society as having a standard value – as opposed to barter, where individuals trade specialist skills in exchange for goods and services.

Because of the universal acceptance of cash, both coins and notes, it is used as an instant way of paying for goods and services. It is also largely untraceable, so whilst two individuals may conclude a transaction there is no record of payment being made or received.

One of the advantages of anonymising transactions, is that it makes the use of cash attractive for the conduct of criminal activities, and in the past ransoms have been demanded to be settled in unmarked used bank notes.

Even otherwise honest members of society may unwittingly commit crimes by defrauding the government of income tax.

Tradesmen who would never steal from, or swindle their customers may routinely offer a discount for cash – meaning that such transactions never go through their books, and are therefore free of income tax or VAT.

This benefits the tradesman, as the cash received may be used for personal spending, and the buyer saves overall on the cost of the item or work.

There is, however, an indirect advantage to this, which is that the cash earned is frequently injected into the local community, either in the local shops, or pubs and clubs.

Call me a cynic, but the rapid introduction of digital banking is positively welcomed by governments globally. as all transactions will be traceable and identifiable.

Only a year ago, the BBC reported that the use of cash is in decline, and will only account for 10% – 15% of all transactions by 2026.

Obviously, there are also advantages to a business becoming cashless. Retail premises such as pubs, clubs and restaurants may save money from not having to buy expensive sales terminals and then enjoying lower insurance premiums as a result of having no cash on the premises.

Intangible expenses such as employee time wasted in cashing up, and paying in money at the bank’s premises are immediately removed. The inadvertent acceptance of counterfeit money is also eradicated.

Cashing up at the end of a shift – a thing of the past?

Losing cash forever, would, in my ‘umble opinion, be a bad thing, as the elderly, the poor and the disadvantaged would be unfairly penalised if their way of paying their way were denied to them.

The merciless march of automation and the ruthlessness of the digital economy may well change our society for ever.

Brave New World?

You decide.

Go Well…


[1] Triple F Brewery, Alton, Hampshire, UK