The Chamber works closely with businesses across all sizes and sectors to ensure that business views are represented to key local and national decision makers. To ensure every sector is represented the Chamber hosts two Area Councils, one in Worcestershire and one in Herefordshire. Each Area Council consists of 15 specialists, from different sectors, who meet six times a year to provide feedback from their respective professions. The feedback is then used to inform our economic reports and shape the policy activity we deliver to Member businesses.
Every other month both Area Councils meet in a Joint Area Council. If you want to find out more about your sector representative or get in touch to ensure your views are shared at the next meeting, click here.
Below is a summary of key sector updates from the latest Joint Area Council meeting.
The discussion focussed on how businesses have fared during the Coronavirus pandemic and to what extent a recovery is now being felt. There was a degree of unanimity among the representatives regarding the following points:
- The furlough scheme would have benefited from being more flexible from the start
- Observing and learning from comparative and international examples of government support offered abroad would have proved beneficial (specific examples included the Kurzarbeit)
- It is currently immensely difficult to make accurate forecasts while facing such significant uncertainty
- Representatives expressed concerns that the pent-up demand currently being experienced will tail off in the coming months, resulting in more of a “W” shaped recovery than some of the more linear models discussed previously (including “V” or “U” shaped recovery)
- The speed of restart and ultimately recovery will vary dramatically between sectors
A quick transition to online learning was needed when lockdown began. Staff have worked hard to keep students engaged and it has paid off. Students studying more practical subjects are gradually returning to finish their assessments and those in Year 12 are returning to prepare for next year. New guidance has recently been released that education providers are now working on to prepare for September. At the minute there hasn’t been a reduction in apprenticeships, but it is unclear whether that will continue. The Chancellor’s Summer Statement announcing grants for apprenticeships and traineeships was welcomed.
The legal sector is well equipped to home working; however, the pandemic has shown that some firms haven’t invested enough in technology. Also, it is more difficult to supervise and support junior members of staff remotely. Different divisions within law firms are likely to have experienced varying demand. For example, some transactional deals have been on hold due to Covid-19 and residential work stopped altogether for a while. However, other divisions including employment, litigation and commercial are likely to have been busy.
Manufacturers are recovering at different rates depending on the sector they service. Those supplying to the construction and home improvement markets are seeing a strong return of sales and are almost back to full capacity. On the other hand, the automotive and aerospace sectors continue to experience reduced demand. Overall confidence in these sectors is low and is having a knock-on effect on planned investments. Some SME’s have been more adversely affected by cash flow issues than large manufacturers which has meant challenges in the supply chain. Recent government announcements such as the Green Homes Grant Scheme have been welcomed however, overall, there hasn’t been enough targeted support for manufacturers.
Marketing and Media
Many clients had already been pausing projects due to Brexit uncertainty so with the added challenges of Covid-19 it has been a difficult few months for the marketing sector. There have been opportunities though with an increase in clients looking to increase their online and social media presence. The sector is well equipped to work from home and has adapted well.
Transport and Logistics
After a difficult April and May, June and July have been a lot more positive. The hospitality sector reopening has provided some opportunities but there is a cautious approach because it is difficult to predict how long the pent-up demand will last. The flexibility introduced to the Job Retention Scheme on July 1 has been welcome. In transport and logistics there is a shortfall of 50,000 drivers so redundancies in the sector are unlikely.
Helping clients from a range of sectors has demonstrated just how different business experiences have been over the last few months. Understandably, hospitality and events businesses have struggled the most, as well as real estate in the early stages of lockdown. On the other hand, food and drink producers and transport and logistics businesses have thrived with some reporting record months. The focus at the start of the pandemic was making sure clients got access to the government schemes they needed. Now the focus is shifting to how businesses can return to full capacity under the new normal conditions.
A Recruitment and Employment Confederation report on jobs in the Midlands showed the biggest drop in permanent and temporary placements in 30 years and the first increase of staff availability in 7 years. After a complete freeze on recruitment at the start of lockdown there has been gradual weekly improvement in the number of businesses looking to recruit. Going forward, recruiters are confident that demand will remain high in IT, Technology and Engineering whereas other sectors will be harder hit. As the Job Retention Scheme is wound down it will be interesting to see the effect on the number of redundancies. As businesses consider the future of work, they will need to review their policies, who can effectively work from home and be able to manage any resentment between those who can and can’t work from home.
Local community spaces and charities are losing at least 50% of their income while experiencing increased demand for services. The pandemic has seen increased demand for mental health support, and it is key that employees, especially those at risk of losing their job or those who have been furloughed, have access to support. Also important is ensuring that unemployed people get access to IT equipment where needed to allow them to gain the right skills.