View: We must do every single thing we can to support businesses affected by flooding
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The destruction and its impact cannot be overstated. To be faced with the sudden loss of a life’s work is an almost unimaginable test.
In the 1960s Elisabeth Kübler-Ross developed the concept of the Five Stages of Grief in her book ‘On Death and Dying’. Her concept was soon adapted as a way of thinking about grief in general.
It’s not too great a stretch to apply it to business owners facing such a sudden and dramatic loss as we have seen in recent days. Kübler-Ross made clear that these five stages – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – are non-linear, and that people can experience them at different times. We are certainly seeing that amongst the flood victims.
The affected businesses include many FSB members, and our team has been closely engaged, visiting to understand the pressures they are facing, offering support, and agreeing the resultant ‘ask’.
Each encounter has been affected by the ‘five stages’, as business owners deal with a torrent of emotions. Distilling it all, FSB called for a three-stranded approach to the flooding, looking for every layer of government to step up and respond as the highest priority – councils, Stormont Departments and UK government. Perhaps this was the initiation of the ‘bargaining’ phase.
Another aspect was an instinctive response, on all our parts, to look for someone to blame – probably an outworking of the ‘anger’ phase. But if ever there were a need for cooperation in business support, it is this flood. The damage isn’t only a massive blow to many individual businesses but has also been so intense that it threatens the viability of entire business communities.
This is of extraordinary significance. Some businesses, often bigger ones, are the magnets that attract consumers, who then spend in the wider trading ecosystem. While there is always churn amongst businesses that make up these ecosystems this sudden, extreme catastrophe is exerting unnatural pressures, and risks doing untold damage.
This is not a time for recrimination about the causes of the flooding, or the lack of an Executive at Stormont to deal with it. The time will come for each of those, but the need right now is for coordinated support, and the initial response has been encouraging. Councils provided immediate help with the short-term clear-up, while the Civil Service has also quickly empowered and financed them to provide grant assistance as well as easing the rates burden to help get these ordinary businesses back on their feet following an extraordinary natural disaster. And the Northern Ireland Office has gone to significant lengths to engage, to understand and to respond; all of which is to be welcomed, encouraged, and maximised - because the threat, like the flooding, is extraordinary and failure would be catastrophic.
So as the waters recede, there are a number of challenges. The first is to give the immediate support needed to let business owners get beyond the initial emotions of denial, anger and, indeed, depression. The bargaining phase is already underway, as insurers, landlords, government officials, suppliers, and staff start to get involved.
But as for ‘acceptance’ – that’s an emotion we need to help business owners keep at a healthy distance. Their businesses may well be down, but they are certainly not out, as long as we get them the support they need, when they need it. Additionally, the flooding has happened, so we will need to see if different actions could have pre-empted and avoided it, and we also need to learn from the experience and plan to avoid it recurring.
We must also maintain the urgency and sense of need. Events often burn brightly and attract attention but quickly recede as others overtake. We cannot allow this shocking episode to disappear; for the need to respond to diminish; for the passage of time to wash away the understanding we have all developed about the effects.
As Shakespeare concluded when considering that tide in the affairs of men, “On such a full sea are we now afloat; And we must take the current when it serves, Or lose our ventures.” We will all be diminished if our valiant business owners lose their ventures, so we have a responsibility to do every single thing we can to ensure they return to fortune.