Long-awaited movies, a possible online shopping tax and a sporting bonanza… what else might we expect in 2021, asks TERRY MURDEN
It is customary at this time of year to feel optimistic, to believe that the economy will grow and things will only get better. But what does better look like? Does it necessarily mean a return to ‘normal’ and a return to growth?
A year like no other has changed our attitudes to work, leisure and the world around us. It’s made us challenge what we took for granted, and probably what we were doing wrong all the time.
Maybe it is time to challenge the notion and desirability of ‘growth’. How about making ‘sustainable shrinkage’ a new strategy, encouraging some sectors to become viable on a smaller scale? After all, oil and gas and the plastics industry are under orders to downsize. Tourism, travel and fast fashion also need to look at the wisdom of getting bigger.
Of course, a reassessment of how we do things is not just about the economy. It’s about our way of life. Many of us said we had learned a lot about ourselves in 2020 and wanted to do things differently. Will there be real change in 2021 or will we just revert to the old ways?
Holidays and travel
Going on holiday has been like living out the plot of The Great Escape, complete with watching guards and a spell in isolation for getting caught breaking the rules.
No one in Scotland is currently allowed to leave the country and tough restrictions on movement will apply for some time across the UK.
Somehow a bunch of British skiers made it to Switzerland before Christmas until they discovered they would be quarantined and did a runner. They have been roundly criticised for thinking they have some sort of entitlement to spend time on the slopes when the rest of us have been staying at home. Serves them right if their yearning to slide down hills gets them into further bother.
Prospects don’t look great for any early changes that will see hordes of tourists heading in or out of the country. This may be a bit of a blessing. Over-tourism, particularly in Edinburgh, was an issue before the pandemic struck.
Airlines have lured us into buying cheap trips to destinations that we never thought of visiting. Do we really need a direct flight to the capital of Blandovia? Airports have fed on this Instagram-led desire to seek out more locations by turning themselves into shopping malls that take money off frustrated passengers held up by flight delays.
It’s time to press the pause button on the aviation and travel industries and for more of us to learn to love simple, local pleasures.
Notwithstanding warnings that the lockdowns may continue until the summer, the vaccines now being rolled out provide hope of a return to at least near normality, with the reopening of hospitality and cinemas, staging of live events and the return of audiences and crowds.
There will always be a need and desire to meet other people face-to-face, and a benefit from chance encounters at live events, but video-conferencing will squeeze the conference and dinner circuit, particularly as many people will remain cautious about meeting in confined spaces.
Companies and individuals alike have seen the cost and time benefits of “attending” meetings and conferences remotely.
The majority (93%) of event professionals plan to invest in virtual events, according to new research by Bizzabo, the world’s fastest growing event technology company, which also found that an overwhelming majority (80.2%) of event organisers were able to reach a wider audience with virtual events.
As for the entertainments sector, let’s hope the vaccines do their job – and quickly – or those football stadiums and concert halls will have a lot of empty seats.
Once cinemas do open, a backlog of movies is ready to be unleashed on film fans, including Dune, Black Widow, In the Heights, Jungle Cruise, Eternals, Last Night in Soho and West Side Story as well as long-awaited sequels to Coming to America and Top Gun and the latest instalments in the James Bond (No Time To Die), Fast & Furious, Ghostbusters and Halloween franchises.
These will add to those already scheduled for release in 2021, such as indie dramas Supernova and Pieces Of A Woman and The Matrix 4.
Assuming cinemas can reopen soon, and that those released for home viewing are kept to a minimum, there should be a feast of films to see and an opportunity for cinemas to make up for some of the revenue lost in 2020.
More time with pets
As more of us worked from home we sought comfort and company in animals. Between March and September Britons bought 5.7 million pets, including 2.2 million dogs, according to the insurance company Direct Line.
Pets are known to be a great boost to human mental health. They provide therapy that is said to be effective in the reduction of physical pain, anxiety, depression and fatigue.
There has been concern that when people do return to their regular place of work their animals will be neglected. More offices may be persuaded to accept them as regular companions. Otherwise, it could be a good time to become a dog walker.
It’s goodbye to presenteeism and hello to more flexible working and even the four-day week as the norm as employers find that home working can enhance productivity. Homes with office space will command the best prices. Offices that allow more space for employees and touch-free facilities are expected to account for a third of space this year.
The first lockdown virtually eliminated traffic, allowing us to be reacquainted with birdsong, cycling, country walks and the joy of doing things more slowly. Let’s not lose what we’ve gained.
Those returning to their place of work are likely to make a permanent switch from buses and trains to electric bicycles, at the same time helping to clean up the air we breathe. Authorities will need to re-think their policies on e-scooters.
COP26: decisive action or a cop-out?
Sadly, when it was announced that the climate change conference COP26 was coming to Glasgow the cheers from the hoteliers and airlines was as loud as those of the environmentalists. The idea that COP26 is a big money-spinner for the city and Scotland somewhat misses the point. The organisers should have followed the example set by the world’s workforce in 2020 and switched to a virtual event without the need to fill the skies with polluting planes.
One way or another let’s hope COP26 (the 26th meeting of the Conference of the Parties) will not be known as a Cop-out and that it delivers a commitment to action – and that may mean emulating some of the restrictions we’ve endured during lockdown. Britain coped with post-war rationing and blackouts. Lockdown has proved we can act together to combat a pandemic.
Similar enforced collective action may be needed if we are serious about tackling climate change. Why not limit the number of overseas trips individuals can make per year, stamped in passports? That should start with the delegates who will be jetting into Glasgow in the autumn.
On the war on plastic, the European Union plans to ban many single-use plastic items this year. Will the newly-independent UK follow suit?
After 22 years of failure, Scotland’s national football team will take their place at the delayed Euro finals in June and July.
With two of the initial games being played in Glasgow it will be a focus for national pride, though it might also provide a platform for the nationalists to build on their independence ambitions.
Whatever the outcome of the clash with England at Wembley on 18 June it will be a talking point for at least another 22 years.
Olympic Games 2020(1)
The Olympic Games will go ahead a year later than planned and will feature five new events, Can you name them? Here you go:
Surfing – the Brazil men’s team and Australia’s women’s team are expected to be strong competitors.
Skateboarding – apparently not all skateboarders are enthused about the sport being included in the Games, sharing fears that widespread commercialisation will jeopardise the culture of the sport
Sport climbing – athletes will clamber up a wall dotted with holds of different shapes and sizes
Karate – male and females karatekas will compete in two forms of karate: kata (a solo form of karate) and kumite (sparring).
Baseball and softball – technically they are not new Olympic sports; rather, they’re being reintroduced after their last appearance in 2008.
Shopping: footfall and online taxes?
The pandemic accelerated the shift towards online shopping and the number of shoppers who are unlikely to return to their normal frequency of visits to the high street has risen from 25.5% in June to 46.7% in December, according to online booking and customer engagement platform Appointedd.
That poses big questions for every high street, shopping mall and retail park, not least the new St James Quarter in Edinburgh which is scheduled to open in the Spring, providing a new retail offering. Curiosity for something new will ensure early footfall is high, but it will need to work hard to encourage shoppers to keep coming back.
Councils need to allow easier change of use for retail units, more free parking and park and ride, while retailers need to re-think their stores, using them as part-showrooms, part-function suites and part-workshops that entertain and engage consumers while they shop. Expect more fashion shows, cookery and self-build demonstrations, repair facilities and seminars.
The Chancellor is said to have been looking again at an online shopping tax to create a level playing field with bricks and mortar shops that have to pay business rates and rents. Given the huge growth of e-commerce in 2020, the Treasury must see it as a means to claw back some of the billions spent propping up other businesses.
Independent shops may benefit from the shift as those who have been forced to shop local, stay local.
New US President
Donald Trump’s achievements on the economy were undone by self-harming denial of world opinion on everything from climate change to Covid, and his battles with China and North Korea.
Joe Biden will become the next president on 20 January and is promising to re-engage with world leaders and the global agenda. Trump’s US-first slogan to ‘Make America Great’ may make way for a more humble ‘Make the World Love America Again’.
Return of bank dividends
Britain’s biggest banks will be allowed to restart limited dividend payments and banker bonuses in the new year, after regulators determined that lenders were strong enough to weather the remainder of the Covid pandemic. That’s good news for pension schemes which traditionally relied on banks to provide a steady income.
A financial services Brexit deal
…and finally Brexit. Boris Johnson got his deal and we wait to see if it will deliver his promise of a new dawn or the dystopian future forecast by naysayers.
Stena Lines said six trucks destined for Ireland were turned away at Holyhead port on the first morning of the new era for not having the correct paper work.
However, we should trust British ingenuity and technology to cope with any challenges that bureaucracy and regulations throw up. As the first freight crossed the Channel on New Year’s Eve a barcode on Romanian driver Toma Moise’s paperwork was scanned and approved in seconds. “The future, I don’t think it will be difficult,” he said.
Financial services companies, with exports in 2019 of £79 billion, have been left waiting to hear what Brexit means for them.
UK-based financial institutions lose automatic access to the EU’s single market. To serve customers in the EU this year, they will need equivalence rights, under which the EU allows them to conduct certain financial activities.
EU regulators want certain business currently conducted in London to take place in the EU. Banks and fund managers have relocated £1.2 trillion of assets to the EU from the U.K. following the 2016 Brexit vote, and more than 7,500 jobs have left the country
The talks will continue, but now Brexit has moved from the training ground to the live match they shouldn’t drag on like the trade deal talks. There is no time to lose in reaching a speedy conclusion.