Colin Findlay - 9 March 2021
Trade associations are the ‘forgotten sector’ of Covid-19 support programs and if we lose them, it’s at our peril. This would be a calamity, especially since trade associations played a vital role supporting industry sectors throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, many could be under threat due to a lack of private and public financial support.
In the case of the United Kingdom, the British government relied on trade associations to advise their respective industries in the early stages of the first lockdown. A comprehensive list of associations was published as part of national ‘support for businesses during coronavirus’ activity in early April 2020. More recently, businesses have been advised to contact trade bodies for help in applying for Kickstart Scheme funding.
During the crisis, trade associations stepped up to provide valuable assistance. When businesses were reeling from the sudden and extensive impact of Covid-19 restrictions, many turned to their trade association for guidance. Trade associations worked proactively to ensure their industries’ voices were heard as events unfolded, and government has recently acknowledged the value of simple and transparent communications between trade associations and themselves. However, many associations are currently facing difficulties of their own, having been excluded from much of the financial aid that was offered to businesses, charities and non-profit organisations.
As the BVAA’s CEO Rob Bartlett explains, trade associations had to extend their remit during the crisis, so scaling back or furloughing staff was not an option: “Like many trade associations, we act as an emergency service for our members. They come to us when they need immediate advice on urgent matters. We had to evolve our offering fast this year, delivering more services online. At the same time, we had to find the resources and expertise to provide guidance related to Covid-19 and Brexit. As a long-established association with a track record of prudence, we’ve been able to shoulder the additional expense and reduced income caused by the pandemic. However, not all trade associations are this fortunate.”
2021 will be tough for many organisations, and budgets will be under pressure. But I’d urge business leaders not to categorise trade association membership as a discretionary expense. As we prepare for difficult times ahead – and look forward to an eventual recovery – we need trade associations more than ever. It’s partly about getting good, tailored guidance when you need it most. But it’s also about ensuring strong, cohesive representation of your industry amongst influencers and decision makers. If trade bodies are under-resourced, it’s their wider industries that will suffer.