Covid: Snub the corporate villains and buy from the heroes instead – Stephen Jardine

Sir Philip Green should learn from businesses that are making money and behaving decently, says Stephen Jardine (Picture: PA)Sir Philip Green should learn from businesses that are making money and behaving decently, says Stephen Jardine (Picture: PA)
Sir Philip Green should learn from businesses that are making money and behaving decently, says Stephen Jardine (Picture: PA)
During the Covid lockdown, some businesses have shown their true colours, both good and bad, writes Stephen Jardine

When the great history of the coronavirus pandemic is written, let’s not forget the heroes and the villains.

This week unemployment hit the highest mark in two years and the worst is yet to come when the furlough scheme ends.

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Among those losing their jobs, young people are worst affected with 16-24-year-old unemployment now running at 13.4 per cent.

One disillusioned graduate this week spoke on TV news about how she’d sent hundreds of job applications but hadn’t secured a single interview. However she also mentioned something else.

Most of her applications were simply ignored but a few people good people had picked up the phone or sent a personal reply, offering advice and encouragement.

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It’s easy to forget good exists at a time when so many of the headlines are bad. Winston Churchill once said “never waste a crisis” and that has been the mantra for too many this year.

This week the Arcadia retail empire apologised after claims it would pay some head office staff only half of their notice pay.

“We got this decision wrong,” the company admitted. Owned by the ghastly tax avoider Sir Philip Green, the firm has been labelled “a cowboy company” by politicians. Perhaps this embarrassing climbdown will be its high noon?

The insurance industry has also faced a moral reckoning this week.

After quibbling over the small print to avoid meeting claims on business interruption policies, the Financial Conduct Authority has won a test case which should force insurers to pay out to thousands of struggling small businesses.

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No doubt the insurers will appeal but that will only add to the grubby, chiselling reputation of the industry.Bad behaviour encourages others.

Earlier in the summer we had billionaire Richard Branson’s demand for a £500m package in loans to save Virgin Airlines, Wetherspoon’s bid to delay paying staff at the start of the crisis and Sports Direct’s attempts to stay open and trading during lockdown.

If one good thing comes out of this whole, awful year it will be a hard reset for the way business behaves.It’s not that hard to be good. If the insurance giants or the dreadful Philip Green had bothered to look around, there are businesses making money and behaving decently.

Top of the pile is Timpson, the humble High Street shoe repair and key cutting chain.

Throughout lockdown it paid out £500,000 a week to make the wages of staff on furlough up to 100 per cent.

That is a lot of keys to cut or watch batteries to replace but the boss of the business James Timpson said it was “money well spent”.

Games Workshop traded well through the lockdown and is now going to pay back the furlough money it received. Other firms such as Kingfisher donated kit to the NHS.

Looking ahead to a time post Pandemic, James Timpson said this: “What I hope is that all businesses will recognise that the kinder, they are, the more relevant they will be — and the more likely to succeed.”

That hope rests with us as consumers.

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The heroes and the villains have been evident throughout this crisis and who we punish and who we reward will help shape what kind of society we are moving forward. If you need a key cut today, you know where to go.

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