NO one in Keighley's business sector should underestimate the challenges that lie ahead.

Social distancing restrictions will remain with us for some time and there are tough days to come.

That was the warning this week from the town’s MP.

But Robbie Moore also voiced his confidence that by working together, Keighley could confront and overcome the crisis – and emerge from it as “a beacon of enterprise”.

Non-essential shops are being allowed to reopen from June 15, but they will have to adhere to strict guidelines to prevent the spread of coronavirus and protect staff and customers.

The move is being welcomed by the retail sector and will provide a boost for the town centre.

A snapshot of one of Keighley’s main shopping streets – Cavendish Street – on Saturday, showed that just a handful of the 40-or-so businesses were open and shoppers were few and far between.

In the Airedale Shopping Centre, 13 of the 70-plus units are currently open. Up to ten more are expected to reopen early next month.

Mr Moore said as the country moved into the second stage of its response to the pandemic, it needed to focus not just on saving lives and protecting the NHS – but on saving livelihoods.

"The economic downturn from this pandemic will be difficult – there is no doubt about that – but forecasts are showing that the damage being done will hopefully be less long-term than the financial downturn caused during the banking crisis," he said.

"Over the past two months, the Government has put in place huge financial support mechanisms to ensure that businesses – no matter how large or small – are as best protected financially as possible to weather the current storm.

"The measures have been unprecedented – access to business grants, Government-backed loans, VAT deferral, the self-employed income support scheme and the job retention scheme, to name a few. All these mechanisms have been implemented to provide comfort to business so that when restrictions are lifted, businesses are better placed to help kickstart the economy again."

But he added: "Despite the huge levels of Government support, we shouldn’t underestimate the challenge of what lies ahead across Keighley.

"It is going to take some time for social distancing restrictions to be removed altogether and that will be difficult for businesses, with some sectors – such as hospitality and tourism – being impacted more than others. A good majority of businesses will still have strong overheads to contend with, while their income-generating capacity will be somewhat limited.

"But whilst economically we may still remain in hibernation, as an optimist I believe that if we are to have any hope of reigniting Keighley’s local economy and taking it beyond to a brighter and better place then we must use this situation as an opportunity to reset and refocus our local economy – directing Keighley’s economic strategy with a bold new vision.

"Of course, I am also a realist. I know from speaking with many businesses both large and small from across Keighley that our local economy faces a great challenge. Difficult times will come. But this is a challenge which we must grasp with both hands, acknowledge and confront – head on. If we don’t, much tougher times will follow.

"We have some fantastic businesses across Keighley – from manufacturing, engineering and tech, to brewing, retail and tourism. I am determined that Keighley comes out fighting fit. The efforts and willpower already made by Keighley’s business community illustrates the hunger for economic revival, and I want to ensure that Keighley is best placed for this to be seized.

"The Government’s financial support so far has been an extremely welcome comfort to many businesses across Keighley.

"Going forward, we will see an injection of the Government-funded Towns Fund, and the recently announced West Yorkshire Devolution Settlement will help once that takes place.

"Thinking bold, Keighley’s economic recovery from this pandemic cannot be conducted in isolation. Keighley’s businesses are nationally and globally renowned and therefore we must work with our regional and national partners to integrate and level-up strategically. I for one will definitely be using every opportunity to be shouting about the positives of what we have to offer.

"By working together as a community, cross sector, our co-ordinated and combined efforts will transform the town and wider area into a beacon of enterprise and as a new hub for investment, jobs and business.

"We will emerge from this and I look forward to working with all to develop a robust economic recovery strategy for Keighley which thinks big and attracts private inward investment to the town."