Because Covid

The computer says no

There are great many things wrong with this pandemic and what it has done to us. The horrifyingly high death ratefor starters. In fact, let’s just take a minute to look at that death rate. As I write, it has just been announced that it has topped 100,000 people in the UK. My heart breaks for all those families. Then there’s the damage the pandemic has done to our National Health Service and the gaping hole in the country’s finances that we will have to contend with. Rishi Sunak’s magic money tree is deciduous, and economic Autumn is approaching.

Don’t forget those sartorial crimes committed in the name of  comfort whilst working from home, nor the decimation of the hospitality industry, the sense of estrangement from loved ones, the criminalising of social interaction and the harm we may be doing to younger generations with months away from formal education. That goes for parents too. Sharing one’s home office with 13-year-olds is not, it turns out, the happy joint-learning experience I, in my naivety, thought it might be.

One of the worst things that has happened is the way that Because Covid has turned into the excuse du jour for customer service that has hit rock bottom and kept going, tunnelling its way down to the depths of don’t-care-what-are-you-going-to-do-anyway-dom. I’ve lost count of the number of companies I have tried to ring or deal with whose excuse has been that, with staff now working from home, everything will take that much longer and be that much crappier. This might have been a reasonable excuse in the first few weeks of Lockdown 1 but a year later, with the way technology can be harnessed, as an excuse, it’s grown pretty thin in Lockdown 3.

A friend is currently tearing their hair out having to deal with a pension company because of a relative who passed away last year. You’d think a pension company might have a way of dealing with bereaved relatives, it kind of goes with the territory. This one even has a ‘bereavement team’. Only you can’t contact this team. There are no phone numbers, emails just go into a black hole and all the customer services staff will say, when they eventually do answer their phone, is “We can’t give out the bereavement team’s phone number or direct emails because of Covid. We’ll get them to call you.” Only they don’t. Ever. Because of Covid.

So, that all being said, it is heartening to see that there are companies out there who have continued to do what they do best, despite Covid. Only this morning we published news of Cowal’s Building Supplies’ expansion via acquisition of Catherwood. Bradfords have a new branch and a further investment in sustainability, BMC Ltd has busted out of their Hull branch after fewer than five years and the replacement will prove a springboard for further growth. At the tail-end of last year, Merritt & Fryers bought Briggs & Duxbury, Huws Gray added Uriah Woodhead & Son and Nelsons of Keighley to add to its Autumn buy of Milford Building Supplies, Then, of course, there’s Grant & Stone whose Cairngorm Capital-filled pockets are deep enough for them to have expanded with the purchase of CRS Building Supplies and 3Counties Timber & Building Supplies, with – probably – more to come.

That’s only on the independent merchant side, there are plenty of other companies too who are not using the pandemic as an excuse but who are getting on with meeting the needs of their customers the best way they can “under the circumstances”.

It’s nice to be able to focus on the positive when everything has been so miserable for so long (I’m deliberately not thinking about the whole EU imports/exports palaver right now; that can wait for another blog). The end of the tunnel is getting closer; lockdown will end; I will get my study back to myself and I will get to see my friends. In the pub where we belong.


Actually, I might give this pub a miss….

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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