Business Continuity Planning (GOV.UK guide)

This resource reflects on how places recover from terrorist attacks and other major incidents. We believe that there are many insights offered that are relevant for towns and cities in the wake of COVID19. As the report concludes, “in an uncertain world, you owe it to yourself to be an organisation that is confident of being ‘back in business’ in the quickest possible time”

Date added 17 August 2021
Last updated 17 August 2021

Expecting the Unexpected: Business Continuity Planning in an Uncertain World

The current global COVID19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on places and the lives of people who live in them, invest and work in them, and who wish to visit them. As a result, many of you may be completely closed for business right now or unable to work at all and may be worried about how or even if you can recover from this current crisis. However, our towns and cities have faced some comparable problems from major incidents such as this in the past.

As an opening example, this report reminds us that “more than 40 per cent of businesses affected by the Manchester bombing went out of business, never to return” (p2). This 2003 report[1] has a particular focus on how places recover from terrorist attacks and other major incidents. While it is therefore not directly related to the challenges that our towns are facing today, we believe that there are many insights offered in the report that can help place managers and town centre businesses get back to business as soon as possible following major crises and disasters. As the report concludes, “in an uncertain world, you owe it to yourself to be an organisation that is confident of being ‘back in business’ in the quickest possible time” (p25).

The High Streets Task Force has recognised the need for a place-based strategy to recovery and resilience to COVID19, and has adopted the COVID19 Recovery Framework to help direct its own response and support to high streets. This Business Continuity Report’s contents are designed to help organisations put plans in place to have the best chance of ensuring business continuity in the event of a major “terrorist attack, fire, flood or other natural disaster”. However, it is too late for that now as the IPM Framework assumes that the vast majority of businesses in our towns and cities will currently be right in the middle of the Crisis stage, where it is important to act right now, generating ideas, implementing crisis response actions, gathering data, offering reassurance, carefully managing communications, coordinating our efforts, and offering information and guidance. While Business Continuity Planning is usually undertaken before a crisis or disaster strikes, this report identifies 3 questions to ask that can help you right now:

Ask “what if” questions

Some of the “what if” scenarios mentioned in the report (see p 11) are actually happening now for businesses in our towns and cities, such as:

  • What if our customers could not contact us?
  • What if our suppliers could not supply us?
  • What if our customers could not pay us?
  • What if we could not pay our suppliers?

Many of you will have already had to make changes to your business because of lockdown measures. Creative businesses are finding ways of delivering products and services online, and through take-away and delivery rather than traditional retail encounters. How will you deal with the other issues you are facing during this current crisis? How creative can you be in your crisis responses? What can you learn from what other businesses are doing? What help is available to you to deal with these problems?

Ask “what is the worst-case scenario”?

We may not even be at that stage yet, and your answers to this question may depend on how long the current crisis will last. “Your worst-case scenario will reflect what would be worst for your business” (p11). Identify your worst-case scenario and try to work out how you could best respond to it if necessary.

Ask what functions and people are essential, and when?

This section (p12) outlines a function/time matrix to help you identify how quickly your business functions need to be up and running. The report focuses this section on dealing with a major specific incident, but in the case of COVID19, the section in the report on developing your Business Continuity Plan may also be useful to you at this crisis stage (see p18), because it helps you consider not only who needs to do what right now, but also what activities need to be prioritised and what can be shelved, at least temporarily until the initial crisis has subsided. You can also use a function/time matrix to focus on the stages you will take towards recovery once the current crisis has subsided.

Once we reach the Transformation stage, what next?

The report also contains a number of sections that will be useful to you as you consider what steps to take at the other stages of our Framework that we have called Pre-Recovery which focuses on building capacity for recovery, before moving to the Recovery stage that is focused on getting people back to places.

Once we reach the Transformation stage we suggest you go back to the beginning of the Business Continuity Report and work through the various steps of the plan to help future-proof your business so that you are best placed to expect the unexpected should any type of manmade or natural disaster hit again.

STEP 1: Undertake an up-to-date analysis of your business (see page 6)

STEP 2: Assess the risks (pp 10-12)

STEP 3: Develop your strategy (p14)

STEP 4: Develop your plan (p18)

STEP 5: Rehearse your plan (p24)



[1] London First. (2003). Expecting the Unexpected: Business Continuity in an Uncertain World.