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Undoubtedly, the industry that has been hit hardest by the Covid-19 pandemic is the leisure and hospitality sector of the Welsh economy. 

Pubs, bars, restaurants, music venues and theatres have been closed for two months and, according to the UK and Welsh Governments, are likely to be the last to open as restrictions are lifted. 

So does this means that the so-called social economy is dead or is there a different vision to its future whilst living side-by-side with the Coronavirus?

According to the article “Covid’s Metamorphoses: The Future of the Social Economy” by Philip Kolvin QC and Alicia Scholer, there are certainly challenges ahead although these can be overcome if the social economy is seen as a place where we not only eat and drink but also interact with those human beings that we have had to avoid for the last two months. 

The social economy should also be recognised by policymakers as not only an economic force but also a social good that needs to be actively promoted by government rather than just left to market forces, 

And this can’t be left for the future – it not about facilitating the social economy for the future but putting in the measures now to enable it to operate safely efficiently and effectively, especially as it will need to trade profitably from lower spending by a poorer population.

So what can businesses, councils and communities across Wales do to support this critical part of our daily lives?

The current restrictions of social distancing means that those operating in leisure and hospitality will need to expand their operation in terms of time and space offering experiences which are attractive to a wider section of the community at different times of day.

Given the confined nature of many establishments, this can only be done if tables are allowed onto pavements where it is potentially easier to maintain physical distancing and customers may be more confident in the open air. 

Of course, the increasing use of streets by businesses will have its challenges especially in terms of licencing and noise but this will need to be sensitively managed by local councils if the social economy many people wish to enjoy is to flourish again.

The social economy doesn’t rely on businesses alone and it is critical that urban centres should feel safe, are clean, and are places where people can access freely. 

Enhancements could range from play equipment for children, more toilets for the public, and green areas for people to sit and enjoy their surroundings. As such, creating an amazing public space surrounded by brilliant businesses should be the aim of every local authority in Wales. 

Indeed, every Welsh council should work with residents to establish a vision for the future of the social economy so that positive change can occur in every urban area from Caernarfon to Cardigan to Cardiff. 

To do this effectively, there must be greater protection of tenants in the leisure and hospitality sector so that town centres are not hollowed out by residential developments ill-suited to the area, something which planning authorities seem to turn a blind eye to. 

In the new economy, there will be also be a need for government to look at controlling the rents charged by often absentee landlords (usually pension funds) that have little involvement at all with the business that occupy their buildings.

And where things have already gone too far, then local authorities may want to consider whether they need to adapt their town centres and promote alternative uses such as community hubs, artists’ workshops, markets, music venues and co-operative ventures.

Therefore, in a “new normal” where customers are fewer, spend is lower and costs are higher, businesses operating in the social economy will not only face a slower return to where they before but a tsunami of change that will threaten their very existence. 

However, as noted by the authors of this excellent article, there can be a renaissance for the social economy even at this difficult time if the private and public sectors work closely together to achieve this aim and create a very different and more positive future for the leisure and hospitality industry.

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