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.
Below is a summary of key sector updates from the latest Worcestershire Area Council meeting.
The discussion focussed on current business conditions, whether the outlook is looking positive and how EU Exit has returned to the agenda. The following points were common among many of the Area Council members:
- The situation is beginning to look a lot more positive for many business sectors. Orders that were delayed due to the pandemic are now returning and sales are increasing. There are a few sectors which continue to struggle including hospitality and offline retail.
- The Government support schemes have been very helpful to businesses and it will be interesting to see what happens when the current schemes end e.g. the Job Retention Scheme closing in October.
- Some businesses, particularly larger ones, aren’t anticipating a return to the office before Christmas. The benefits and pitfalls of home working are now being evaluated with businesses introducing robust policies and looking at the impact on data protection and security.
Continued conversations with clients have been largely positive with many sectors beginning to recover and experiencing strong growth. Government backed lending has worked well for businesses and the Job Retention Scheme has helped businesses retain their staff. There is an element of waiting to see what will happen once the Government schemes end in the next couple of months. The transition to working from home has been a mostly positive one but some businesses are beginning to set out plans for returning to the office. Others don’t anticipate returning to the office before Christmas. After falling off the radar for a while, EU Exit is back on the agenda and requests for support in this area have increased recently.
Overall, the situation for manufacturers is beginning to look more positive. However, different levels of recovery have been experienced depending on the sectors that manufacturers supply to. For example, the aerospace industry is still down but defence is going well and automotive is beginning to improve. And while sales have increased, they haven’t recovered to 2019 levels. The end of the Job Retention Scheme may impact some manufacturers and there is a continued skills issue that needs to be addressed. EU Exit is a concern with continued uncertainty particularly given developments in the last couple of days.
Things are beginning to look more positive but there is some uncertainty approaching as the Job Retention Scheme unwinds and with EU Exit on the horizon. There has been an increase in manufacturing and production employment which looks like more than just pent up demand. The IT and Engineering sectors are also experiencing strong demand. It’s encouraging that commercial roles e.g. Finance/Admin/HR are also being recruited for because that kind of employment tends to be delayed in difficult economic times.
Retailers have fared differently depending on whether they operate online or offline. The high street has had to go through measures to ensure their staff and premises are safe which has increased costs. In the offline sector a lot of staff are still furloughed, and profits are not as good as in previous years. The online sector doesn’t have the same interaction with people on site so there haven’t been extra costs to meet and they have benefited from people being put off the high street. The situation will become more interesting as we head into the most important time for retail leading up to Christmas. It’s looking like online sales will see a huge increase this year. Because we don’t want to see big crowds Black Friday may happen more online this year.