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.
To find out more about your sector representative, or to get in touch to ensure your views are heard, click here.
Below is a summary of key sector updates from the latest Worcestershire Area Council meeting.
There are still many challenges which our Members and businesses continue to face. As a Policy department we are always engaging with local MP’s and the British Chambers of Commerce to help raise the profile of challenges which businesses continue to face such as Brexit, skills, access to finance and many more.
In recent weeks we have circulated documents from the BCC to highlight some of the policy work they are doing to provide support with the challenges Members continue to face. The feedback we get from Area councils helps the policy team at H&W Chamber and BCC understand where to focus our efforts and make effective change.
Demand outstripping supply re: people. REC last report headlines – Permanent staff availability fallen for the 5th month running, temporary availability lowest that it’s been since 2015. Not enough movement in the market. Still a significant amount of people on furlough in Worcestershire – highest sector is in manufacturing, yet this sector is desperate for staff.
Have lots of research work on maximising remote working, balanced approached the one most favoured to get the best for the business and the employee. A level results – normal year 72% hit grades required for clearing. This year 98% hit the offer results. This means there are fewer in ‘clearing’ which has an impact on the smaller Universities who rely on the clearing students to fill their intake. Worcestershire strong with nursing students and International student numbers.
Demand outstripping supply, especially with UK vacations. Purchasing more during winter to cover summer demand. Container prices and availability an issue and alternatives (like flight transfer) have had issues too. Challenges will continue for a while with global Covid ongoing challenges in individual Countries and demand spikes for Black Friday and Christmas. Affecting prices of products.
IT & Cyber
A recent report suggests that telephone and text scams are up some 83% year on year due to the pandemic, particularly because of the volume of things getting delivered. Fake parcel delivery notifications are the hot topic of the moment. The criminal activity occurs when said parcel is claimed to be underpaid and a nominal amount is required to deliver it, contained in a text message link. This leads to a nicely branded portal to add card payment or bank details which then get captured and used. In some cases, thousands have been extracted using this method.
The industry is struggling to combat it due to the ease of presenting what seems like a genuine number to the recipient. Current UK technology does not allow for the presentation number and actual number to be cross-referenced. Combatting SMiShing is the same as normal; be vigilant, don’t click links, but you can also forward spam texts to the network operator to 7726 (this spells SPAM on your keypad). This is a way that the network operator can close down a presentation number, albeit another will be opened up to start the whole cycle again. A Which? report showed that 79% of people immediately recognised a text scam and 3% of people surveyed have lost money.
Cost inflation big issue, affecting activity. Difficulty in skills recruitment, particularly in gas and electricity. Costs of buying in from contractors adding to challenges. Housing association stock has to meet net zero carbon targets, cost of this is challenging. Re-financing interest costs have reduced which have helped mitigate the cost challenges.
Rates of borrowing low, has been helped by CIBLS and BBB but still and opportunity to look at re-financing. Mixed approach to visiting clients, still some face to face and some virtual at clients request still. Turnover of some businesses is reducing due to staff and other material supply shortages, but many are nonetheless reporting better profits.
August a slower month, lots of vacations but otherwise consistently high levels of activities – residential and commercial. Residential – phenomenal year, sales occurring really quickly, within days/weeks. Significant house building in the planning. Getting to the point where residential and commercial balance has to be addressed, or employees will be forced to leave for employment outside of the area. Balance of office/home working leading to more demand in Counties like Worcestershire.
Strong demand, supply of components a challenge, particularly electronics. Labour okay at this time. Committed to a Net Zero strategy currently understanding carbon emissions, particularly that of the supply chain. The dominant issue in production and manufacturing businesses is supply chain and the cost increases. On top driven with by increased logistical costs. Lead times of goods have shot up. Specific raw materials have seen a high double digit increase over the last 6-9 months, this in combination of shortages and availability. This is not only contained to the much publicly discussed issue with the shortage of semiconductors, it effects a whole range of other products as well, cables, connectors, etc. This is now paired with a healthy order book for most companies, therefore a much higher demand than last year. From a capital goods investment point of view, it has proven that projects have been put on hold, rather been scrapped in comparison to previous recessions. Especially in the automotive sector, forecast requirements have been changed frequently in order to synchronise with other missing components (semiconductor driven).
Manufacturing is very buoyant at present with order books increasing as industry bounces back. Sourcing raw materials is more difficult and more expensive than before. Those who import/export to Europe still face delays and costs. Freight costs still really high and now we see energy costs are going to go through the roof. Added to this HGV shortages and CO2 issues means that we, UK Plc, are in for some tough times and leadership has never been so important as it now for over 40 years.
1.25% tax rise is a way of paying off covid-19 debt which was accrued over the last 18 months. 2023 levy will appear separate on your payslip.
Hop harvest is now if full flow and the problems with lack of labour persist. Farms are under real pressure to get enough staff to pick the crop and getting enough drivers to collect the harvested produce is also causing difficulties. Still experiencing issues with EU exports as customs officers in the different EU countries are getting more particular about the paperwork required to allow swift passage of the goods. Also experiencing difficulties getting container bookings for both imports and exports. Pubs and restaurants are mostly back open, and sales are starting to get back to where they should be. Currently about 85% of a normal year. Worries of a beer shortage in pubs have been averted as a deal has been struck with delivery drivers to keep the supply chain operational. Challenging times for sure but hopefully better things are on the horizon.
Insurance market remains hard. For most types of commercial insurance premiums are more expensive than last year, sometimes significantly more expensive, and insurers are putting more demands on policyholders and restricting the cover provided. Policyholders are being advised to review their sums insured due to the fluctuating costs and availability of stock, raw materials and construction. Due to Covid the insurance industry stopped providing event cancellation cover for communicable diseases. After significant lobbying the government has agreed to underwrite this for the next 12 months in order to give event organisers confidence to hold major events again. Cover is priced at 5% of the limit of indemnity and is restricted to commercial events such as festivals, concerts, sports fixtures, etc.