Businesses around the globe have handled recovery from Coronavirus in different ways and North East business leaders heard about Spanish insights at a recent webinar.
As part of a series of North East England Chamber of Commerce events on lessons from the pandemic, Eva Prada, Spain Director, British Chamber of Commerce spoke about her own experiences in her role to encourage Spanish UK business links or as she put it acting as a ‘helpful barometer’ for British investors who want to take advantage of opportunities in Spain.
She began the webinar by setting the scene of the two countries close links and said: “The scale of UK investment in Spain is sizable and stood at over €3,440 million in 2018. In 2019 the value of British Investment grew so it became the largest investor in Spain. As a country we also enjoy very close connections to the North East.”
Recapping the past few months she was very candid about the impact of Covid 19 and the stringent measures introduced by the Spanish Government, which declared a State of Alarm quicker than the UK and only relaxed rules slowly when the infection rate allowed it.
The culture of Spain is very different to the UK and she said: “The Covid 19 situation has meant a very major shift for us as it is not typical for Spanish business people to work from home or to be unable to see our families but our businesses did adapt. We do have opportunities here and are now keen to get the benefit of any economic stimulus, especially with Brexit on the horizon.”
In the second part of the webinar there was an employers’ perspective, provided by Borja Sierra, vice- Presidente Ejecutivo of property specialist, Savills Aguirre Newman, based in Madrid.
There are 500 people working in Savills Spanish business primarily out of offices in Madrid and Barcelona.
He said: “I’ve worked in the property market here for the past 25 years so have a substantial amount of experience but this pandemic was still extremely challenging. Top of the list for me to do was to ensure we had really regular engagement with staff and clients. We needed to change all our forecasting for the year and were constantly talking and supporting our clients to research whatever they needed to make their own decisions.
“Investors wanted to remain active in our region but there were difficulties, for example, it was impossible to visit properties or sign legal deeds. I would say over the past few months the majority of our work involved more talking than doing, as that was all that was practical but that emphasis definitely shifting as businesses are freer to operate more normally.
“We have the option to be back in our offices now they are reconfigured to ensure social distancing. This has worked well although it is strange, almost like being at your first day at senior school, re-learning routes around once-familiar offices.
“I’m pleased to say businesses are also coming back to the cities although some not until January. Covid 19 has had a huge impact but in Spain our retail sector has definitely suffered the most.
“With regard to the impact on the office space market, I don’t see evidence of this as a long-term trend at present. I think people need other people at work rather automatically being based at home, in the long term.”
The governance in Spain is very different to the UK with 17 devolved communities. This has meant recovery is able to be done at a different pace, where pandemic statistics are varied. Following the State of Alarm declaration the Government did issue measures and took on more power but this is shifting back now, so some regions are able to resume normality more quickly.
Looking to the future there is going to be a substantial marketing campaign to raise awareness of Spain and attract visitors and investment.