IT can take a lot to prompt a surge of hope on Monday mornings at this advanced stage of the coronavirus crisis.

However, switching on the laptop first thing and logging into Twitter brought up a simple short message from Glasgow restaurant owner Marco Giannasi which did just that.

Many people will feel we are much further behind this spring in terms of emerging from this awful pandemic than they would have thought or hoped a year ago yesterday, when the UK’s move to full lockdown was announced.

It has been a long and most difficult winter in so many ways, amid the pandemic and the restrictions needed to save many thousands of lives. And so many uncertainties remain, for households and businesses alike. Often the later stages of a gruelling journey are much tougher than the start. And, even once we hopefully get through the worst of this awful public health crisis, there will still be the misery of rising unemployment. The projections on this front are not as bad as they were, but they are still grim.

There is, of course, the over-arching good news of the vaccine success, which gives us a route out of the mess. It is difficult to conceive how things would have been without the international breakthroughs on this front – it is probably best not to think about this.

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However, at times in recent weeks, it has seemed that the return to normality is still so far away. It is close but in many ways still seems out of reach.

Against this backdrop, it was most encouraging on Monday morning to see Mr Giannasi had overnight tweeted the following: “It feels like waking up from a bad dream, the good news is that we managed to maintain all our staff and we are reopening on the 26th of April! From all of us at the “Rest” hope to see you soon.”

Mr Giannasi, who owns and runs the Battlefield Rest on the south side of Glasgow with his wife Yellena, described as “fantastic news” the bistro’s plans to reopen on April 26. He noted the restaurant would have an outdoor licence for alcoholic drinks from 11am to 10pm. It would, he added, be open from 11am until 8pm indoors, with no licence at this stage in line with Scottish Government coronavirus restrictions. During the current lockdown, the Battlefield Rest has been offering a takeaway service at weekends.

A little more than a year on from the UK’s move to lockdown, the notion of this point being “like waking up from a bad dream” is a highly appealing one.

However, it was the focus on jobs, not trumpeted but plain to see in Mr Giannasi’s tweet, which was so uplifting.

Yes, the Battlefield Rest has been able to use the UK Government’s coronavirus job retention scheme, through which the taxpayer supports the incomes of furloughed employees, to save jobs. And this programme has been crucial in preserving jobs in the economy at large.

However, it is important to realise there have been huge challenges for so many thousands of businesses such as the Battlefield Rest in retaining staff.

HeraldScotland: Rishi Sunak Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA WireRishi Sunak Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Not least of these challenges was the persistent refusal of Chancellor Rishi Sunak – until it was too late for many businesses in terms of their planning – to extend the coronavirus job retention scheme. He eventually had to do so, as the second wave of Covid-19 built dramatically in the UK. But it remains unfathomable and exasperating that he could not see from the outset, having put the furlough support programme in place last spring, that this would need to be a sufficiently long-term and unbending commitment amid the human tragedy of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Sunak’s stubbornness and dithering undoubtedly cost so many jobs.

The coronavirus job retention scheme was eventually late last year extended to this spring and, in the Budget, out to September. This has brought the UK more into line with where France and Germany have been from the onset of the pandemic. These countries took a two-year view on support from the start, not a bizarre perspective of a few months.

However, even with the level of UK taxpayer support provided for furlough having been improved again from November after the level of contributions required from employers was ratcheted up through last summer and autumn, a substantial commitment from businesses is still required.

So employers like Mr Giannasi have contributed very significant sums of money to retain their staff, not just last summer and autumn but even now, when business owners are still having to pay pension and national insurance contributions for furloughed staff.

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They have also stuck with their employees at times when Mr Sunak was indicating no further support would be forthcoming through the coronavirus job retention scheme, in terms of his previous oft-repeated determination to end it on October 31 last year. The Chancellor also seemed at pains last summer to emphasise a view that people should not be given false hope. The attitude of many business owners determined to retain staff and give these employees such crucial hope was thankfully very different to that of Mr Sunak at that most difficult stage.

Mr Giannasi has shown a people-focused approach throughout this crisis. And he has signalled an acute awareness of what people might be experiencing.

Asked by The Herald this week about the importance to him of retaining all staff amid the Covid-19 crisis, Mr Giannasi replied: “Obviously the responsibility – you can feel the responsibility, for all those people working. Everyone was depending on what our decision was. I have managed over a year so another month or two is nearly there.”

More than half of the workforce – which totals 18 including Marco and Yellena Giannasi – have worked at the restaurant in excess of a decade.

Back in November, during renewed lockdown at that stage, Mr Giannasi flagged the potential mental health impact on employers and staff in the hospitality sector as a whole amid continued uncertainty over what the future would hold.

This crisis must surely have felt to many people, frequently, like a bad dream.

While there are signs of better times ahead, huge challenges remain.

The independent Office for Budget Responsibility had some good news on the economic front when it published its latest forecasts to accompany Mr Sunak’s Budget earlier this month. It now predicts the UK could regain its pre-pandemic level of output by the middle of 2022, six months earlier than it had forecast in November, and has underlined the importance of vaccines to this faster-than-expected recovery. The OBR is also now forecasting a much lower peak in unemployment than it predicted back in November, although there is sadly nevertheless still much misery to come on this front.

In its latest forecasts, the OBR notes that the unemployment rate on the International Labour Organisation measure “rises from 5.1 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2020 to a peak of...6.5 per cent – 2.2 million – at the end of 2021”.

It observes this “represents a rise of 490,000 over the year, but is 340,000 lower and six months later than in our November forecast”.

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We should not underestimate the importance of the personal values of Mr Giannasi – and many others who own and run smaller businesses and have prioritised looking after their staff – in helping collectively to mitigate the unemployment misery arising from this pandemic.

Their behaviour on this front is in stark contrast to senior executives at some big companies which seemed to be champing at the bit to cut costs either during the first lockdown or as soon as it was coming to an end, dispensing with loyal staff. The professional management types in the companies which have behaved in this way reacted to the pandemic in the way they react to just about every other problem – cut jobs first and ask questions later. For some, the emergency situation may have narrowed choices dramatically. But many other big businesses which have contributed to record redundancy figures would have been able to bear comfortably the costs of those employees they have jettisoned, especially given the coronavirus job retention scheme and even taking into account Mr Sunak’s repeated failure to flag continuing support early enough. Some smaller businesses will also have cut jobs unnecessarily.

HeraldScotland: Marco Giannasi Picture: Colin MearnsMarco Giannasi Picture: Colin Mearns

But there have, thankfully, been so many businesses of all sizes which have done the right thing by their employees through this pandemic – a crisis that has really shone a light on the very different things which drive people running businesses.

It is the smallest businesses which have, overall, faced the greatest struggle amid the pandemic. And business owners such as Marco and Yellena Giannasi, who put their capital on the line to create a thriving enterprise and jobs, have as a whole faced much greater challenges than generally well-paid senior management in big businesses, who are often far from the coalface.

Mr Giannasi’s tweet about the “good news” being that the Battlefield Rest had been able to retain all of its employees showed where his priorities have lain.

Many other small business owners will have had the same priority throughout this awful crisis.

These are the real heroes in the business world amid the pandemic, and their valiant efforts to save jobs at the most crucial of times provides some much-needed hope as we look forward to better times.