Every aspect of our firm’s operations over the last six months has been dominated by the Covid-19 crisis. There’s been an incalculable cost in terms of loss of human life, from both the disease itself, its secondary impacts, as well as global economic fallout and large-scale and lasting change to our daily lives. This crisis was unprecedented and there was no playbook, therefore as an organisation, our purpose guided us in our decision making throughout.
When we release our results later in the financial year, it will be clear that the pandemic has impacted our performance, despite a strong first nine months. However, the economic impact has been reduced because of the resilience and engagement of our people.
I’ve been profoundly impressed by the way our people and business have adapted to new ways of working while retaining an unrelenting focus on supporting our clients.
This crisis has accelerated an already rapid period of change; disruption through the fourth industrial revolution; rising inequality, the skills gap, increasingly complicated global trading relationships and a greater understanding of the impacts of climate change, these have created a complex environment for both our clients and our firm to navigate.
Everyone’s thinking is now rightly turning to recovery and how the investment in that recovery can enable us to build back better. As a leading professional services firm and employer, we believe we have a significant role to play in shaping and delivering this recovery, both in our own work and through our work with clients.
First, I want to pay tribute to all the hard work of our partners and staff in ensuring that we continued to deliver for our clients without losing focus. It’s been a difficult time for everyone and many of our people have been personally impacted.
Over the years we’ve invested in fantastic technology and training for all of our people which allowed us to keep our people safe at home while continuing to work. Given the huge uncertainty and consequential fear, we set out our position on a number of key issues in the first weeks of the lockdown - providing reassurance to our people that our partners would shoulder the financial burden of the pandemic, we would do all we could to keep their jobs safe and not take government funding through the furlough scheme or loans.
We recognised early in the crisis the importance of regular dialogue with our teams to combat the risks of isolationism and understand better the challenges they were facing as individuals. This led to us providing a range of support at different stages of the pandemic to shore up our people's mental and physical well-being, leveraging the support of psychologists to help our people explore and cope with some of the challenges they have been facing.
In listening it became clear that we would need to offer a blended way of working, to respond to this need we started reopening our offices in June. To begin the transition to a blend of home, office and client site working.
We can already see signs of the recovery, particularly in the deals market, and we know it is important that we continue to invest so that as the recovery gains strength, we can play our part in solving some of the issues that Covid has accelerated.
Over the last four years we have continued to rebalance our business to strengthen our regional presence and we have almost half of our employees based outside London. As a UK-wide business we see the economic and societal benefits of levelling up our own operations across the country. Over the last six months almost 2000 people have joined our firm, two thirds of them outside London.
We’ve also stayed focused on widening access to jobs, social mobility and equality and we’ve been pleased to be ranked as the leading social mobility employer in the UK in October 2019. We continue to invest in our regional offices, with a new 2,500 person office in Birmingham open this year and a 3000 person office in Belfast next year.
Particularly post Covid, we need to be alive to the fact that general social mobility measures can mask serious issues of racial inequality. During the year, I launched further actions in response to the Black Lives Matter debate recognising that we need to do more to support people of colour and need to up the ante on the pace of progress.
We have offered more opportunities to our people to be upskilled with over 5000 of our people attending digital academies. We have also worked with clients to reach net zero as we continue to build our market leading sustainability and climate change practice. PwC itself is operationally carbon neutral. But we still need to do more to reduce the carbon footprint associated with our own business travel and to support our clients in this area.
The pandemic is a defining moment for all our businesses, but I believe that the true strength of our business continues to be a clear purpose and an engaged workforce. While I am encouraged by the strengthening of our order book, the statistic that I am most proud of is that 70% of our people completed our last engagement survey in August and more that 90% are proud of the way that we as a firm have responded to and tackled the crisis and supported them.
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Corporate Affairs, PwC United Kingdom