The Herefordshire & Worcestershire Chamber of Commerce has released the results of the latest Quarterly Economic Report, outlining business performance between Monday 15 February 2021 and Monday 8 March 2021. To read the full report click here.

After an extremely difficult 2020, the report shows that 2021 is looking more positive. While the pandemic is still causing significant public health and economic challenges, the successful vaccination program and the government roadmap to release lockdown will be important in helping businesses recover across both counties.

This quarter’s report focuses on automation. We have heard a lot in recent years about how automation will have a significant impact on businesses and the skills needed within their workforces. Technology and skills are two of the Chamber’s Manifesto priorities for 2021-2022 so in this quarter’s report we investigated how automation is likely to affect local businesses. Locally there is a mixed picture. 44% of businesses ranked automation as not important at all or only slightly important to their business. On the other hand, 36% of businesses ranked automation as very or extremely important.

The latest figures released by the Office for National Statistics have seen GDP grow by 1.2% in December 2020, partly due to a month of eased restrictions which allowed businesses to operate under tiered systems. However, GDP remains 6.3% below the February 2020 level. (GDP monthly estimate, UK – Office for National Statistics, 2021).

The recovery for the UK market is very dependent on the success of easing lockdown restrictions within the UK and following the government roadmap to achieving this. Furthermore, the opening of the UK economy will also depend on the rate of the UK population getting vaccinated and whether lockdowns will be more localised if the spread of new variants enter the country once the lockdown has been lifted. Due to the national lockdown introduced on 4 January 2021, we saw UK sales in the service sector reduce to -4% (Q1 2021).

Businesses will be keen to experience a period of stability as we exit lockdown and follow the government roadmap to easing restrictions. The successful roll out of the vaccination programme has given businesses hope that they will be able to remain open for the year and see trading return to pre-Covid levels.

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