While news of a potential breakthrough in the coronavirus COVID-19 vaccine quest is welcome, the reality increasingly looks like it will be Q2 of 2021 at the earliest before any kind of normality returns to life. Rishi Sunak’s extension of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to 31 March 2021 suggests that the government is making contingency plans based on that, although it came before Pfizer and BioNTech’s news above.

Even so, this winter will be a tough one. It will be the toughest in living memory for most operators. Some may not survive it. Where that will leave the people that rely on services provided by such businesses – either now or when times were better – is unclear, but it requires little intelligence to realise the effect in many cases.

Industry ‘is not all about metal’: It is about people

Thus far such an understanding has deserted the government. While it and the devolved nations have supported the continued operation of bus services, a no-profit situation there can only go on for so long, particularly for smaller operators. They are stuck with that situation and an official line that continues to discourage the use of their product.

In coaching, central government has also thus far missed the point that the industry is not about metal. The collective benefits that it brings are considerable, particularly to the more marginalised parts of society. To other sectors, too. Tourism is front and square among the latter.

Coaching does all of that on a cost-effective basis. That is why it is not in need of a huge amount of financial backing, when the wider UK-wide picture of government support schemes, grants and underwritten loans is considered. It is likely that any funding offered to the coach industry would be indirectly returned to the public coffers quickly if 2021 produces a reasonable season.

A stumbling block for communicating the societal impact of a decimated coach industry is that little concrete data about the number of passengers it carries is actually available. And with no data can come no case for support.

‘It’s now about what coaching does for society’

One operator points to the industry’s diversity as the reason for that. It is built on small- to medium-sized operators that work in many areas. That will undoubtedly remain the case when COVID-19 is naught but an unpleasant memory. But there is now a need for all those businesses to come together and pool their passenger data to create a vision of everything they do.

The industry’s approach must now change, the operator continues. It is no longer about what society can do for coaching. It is more a case of what coaching does for society.