If you’re one of the tens of thousands of sun-deprived Brits who have booked a post-Covid summer getaway, you’re in good company – the business editor of the UK’s paper of record, The Times, has too (Greece, if you must know). Richard Fletcher sat down (virtually) with Pagefield during one of the agency’s Meet the Editor question and answer sessions.
Richard, who will be launching an SME-focused product soon (subscribe to his newsletter to find out more), discussed what it has been like to cover the pandemic, his thoughts on the Spring Budget and why his faith in the stock market has been restored.
The ‘hibernation recession’
To open the conversation, Pagefield asked Richard what he thought about Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Spring Budget and if he thought it was a success or not.
“In terms of assessing how successful this Budget was and all the other fiscal statements we have had from Sunak over the past year…this is a unique recession since the government has put the economy into hibernation and all of these measures are aimed at securing jobs or securing businesses so that when we come out of this self-imposed hibernation the economy can still operate,” he said.
“That’s not like any other recession that any of us have experienced or read about, therefore you have to assess the Budget and measures like furlough in a year’s time when we can see what scarring the two lockdowns have left.”
Consumers will fuel a post-Covid boom
Amid the ongoing debate around whether there will be a V-shaped recovery to the economy or not, Pagefield quizzed Richard on the matter, asking whether he thought there would be a big bounce back for businesses, especially for those companies that have been hardest hit in the retail and hospitality sectors.
“Some savers do appear to be sitting on more money than they have previously,” Richard said. “But none of us have been here before, so it’s difficult to predict how people will react when we are set free. Personally, I do think that there will be a bit of an uptick in consumer spending, it’s just hard to say how strong that will be.”
Faith in stock markets has been restored
The early stages of the pandemic saw a flurry of publicly listed companies raise money via institutional shareholders on the London Stock Exchange. Overall, Richard revealed that he thought that was a good thing.
“One of the things that has reinvigorated my faith in the markets is that lots of companies were able to go to the markets and raise money to shore-up their balance sheets in the first few months of the Covid lockdown, which was really good to see,” Richard said.
Times readers love Brexit stories
Pagefield could not quite avoid the B-word during our conversation. But the business editor did reveal that readers of The Times are still lapping up stories relating to the UK’s exit from the EU.
“Readers are still incredibly interested in it,” Richard told Pagefield. “There was a commentator that recently said he wanted Brexit to move to the business pages. Given the interest among the readers, that’s fine by me.”
A freeport fan
Finally, Richard revealed that he was a “fan” of the government’s plan to introduce eight freeports across the UK. The locations, including East Midlands Airport, Solent, Thames and Teesside, were unveiled in the Spring Budget and these zones will benefit from import and export tax reliefs. The hope is that it will drive growth, jobs and innovation to the selected regions.
“They could work,” Richard said. “You look at the success of the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC), which does show that deregulation and tax breaks do work. Maybe we will see a similar success.” The LDDC was established in the early 1980s under Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. It helped transform run-down areas of East London, most notably creating Canary Wharf.