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 last few months and what the outlook is for 2021. These were some common points shared by the representatives:
- The uncertain outcome of EU Exit negotiations is a real concern considering we are just weeks away from the end of the transition period. There is a persistent lack of clarity around what cross border trade will look like after January 1. Government campaigns to advise businesses to prepare for EU Exit lack detail when you engage with them.
- Business sector continues to be of huge significance when considering how businesses have been impacted by the pandemic. Overall, there is a feeling that businesses have done better than expected and are looking forward to a more positive 2021.
- Employees have worked extremely hard this year under difficult circumstances. Extra emphasis has been placed on health and wellbeing initiatives, particularly to help people through an extended period of remote working.
The education sector can operate as usual during the second lockdown by conforming to Covid-secure guidelines. There has been an increase in the number of full-time students, particularly in practical subjects like plumbing, automotive and health and social care. Education providers are diversifying to offer training and initiatives to help people learn new skills in the more difficult economic climate introduced by the pandemic.
Government schemes introduced as a result of the pandemic have led to a significant funding boost for businesses. There are sectors that are doing well such as horticulture and agrichemical. Other sectors have fared less well but generally businesses are in a better position than they thought they would be. There is some uncertainty around 2021 and a lot will depend on projects continuing.
Manufacturers have been much less adversely affected by the second lockdown than they were back in March, although there are exceptions. Orders have been strong which is sometimes causing problems when dealing with the level of demand. It has been a difficult year with employees working exceptionally hard and not always taking their holidays. The uncertainty around EU Exit is becoming a real concern. Investment intentions are mixed, some manufacturers are not investing while others are taking the opportunity to invest in automation and innovation. The downside to investing in automation is that you can’t get grant funding because automation doesn’t result in job creation.
Transport and Logistics
Increased home deliveries and online shopping have been good for the transport and logistics sector, particularly in the run up to Christmas. What happens in the New Year is looking less clear especially considering EU Exit. Some stockpiling due to EU Exit is happening but not across the board. Increased import duties may have a knock-on effect on consumer prices.
The extension of government financial schemes to help businesses through the pandemic is welcome news. Although a lot of businesses are down on turnover the decrease is not as dramatic as first thought and most are expecting an improvement next year. The Job Retention Scheme has helped businesses survive. However, some businesses have struggled and unfortunately redundancies have been made.
Sales and orders have increased recently. While there is some optimism this will continue into next year EU Exit is causing uncertainty and may have a knock-on impact on confidence. Government support has been appreciated across the sector but sometimes policy changes are announced with insufficient notice. Investment is increasing in digital and automation although some resistance to automation may result in a long-term issue with competitiveness.
Property and Construction
The residential market has seen huge demand because of the cut in stamp duty. Development projects are continuing despite some planning delays. The second lockdown has exacerbated problems for the high street. Some retail is moving to warehousing as online retail becomes more popular. It is early days for businesses to decide whether they still need office space so that will be one to watch in the future.
After a dip in March as the first lockdown was introduced recruitment has bounced back. During the second lockdown, recruitment, both for temporary and permanent staff, has continued as normal. There is a lot of evidence that businesses are operating as usual. There is increased frustration around the EU Exit situation, particularly around which businesses are required to become a licensed sponsor to recruit workers from the EU after December 31.