Worcestershire Area Council Updates

Business Sector Updates


Agriculture plays a vital role in the economy of Worcestershire and the United Kingdom as a whole, contributing to food security, rural employment, and environmental sustainability. However, like any industry, farming currently faces numerous challenges that impact its viability and long-term sustainability. Climate change and extreme weather events: Climate change poses a significant threat to agricultural production in the UK. Farmers are grappling with unpredictable weather patterns, including increased frequency and intensity of extreme events such as droughts, floods, and storms. These weather fluctuations disrupt crop cycles, affect livestock health, and damage farm infrastructure, leading to reduced yields, increased costs, and financial instability. Brexit and trade uncertainty: The UK’s departure from the EU has resulted in trade uncertainty for farmers. Changes in trade agreements, tariffs, and regulatory frameworks have disrupted established supply chains, affected exports and imports, and impacted farm incomes. Negotiations with trading partners, such as the EU, are ongoing, leaving farmers uncertain about future market access and the potential impact on their businesses.

Agricultural policy reforms: The UK’s agricultural policy has undergone significant reforms with the introduction of the Agriculture Act 2020. This transition from the Common Agricultural Policy to new domestic policies brings both opportunities and challenges. Farmers now face the complexities of adapting to new subsidy schemes, environmental regulations, and outcome-based incentives, requiring adjustments in farming practices and increased administrative burdens. Labour shortages: The agricultural sector relies heavily on seasonal and permanent labour from the EU. The changes in immigration policies post-Brexit have resulted in labour shortages for farmers. Reduced access to migrant workers has led to difficulties in recruiting and retaining skilled agricultural workers, particularly for labour intensive tasks such as fruit picking and processing. Labour shortages adversely affect productivity, harvests, and overall farm operations.

Environmental sustainability and regulations: The UK government has committed to enhancing environmental sustainability in agriculture through initiatives such as the Environmental Land Management Scheme. While these measures promote sustainable farming practices, farmers face challenges in adapting to new regulations, meeting environmental targets, and balancing productivity with conservation efforts. Implementing environmentally friendly practices often requires additional investments and retraining. Economic pressures and market volatility: Farmers are currently encountering economic pressures due to fluctuating commodity process, rising input costs, and market volatility. Uncertain market conditions, including Brexit related impacts, have led to price fluctuations and reduced profitability. Farmers must navigate these challenges while striving to maintain financial stability and invest in technological advancements and farm infrastructure. Technological advancements: The adoption of innovative technologies, such as precision agriculture, robotics, and data analytics, holds promise for increasing farm efficiency and sustainability. However, the high costs associated with acquiring and implementing these technologies can be a barrier for many farmers, particularly smaller operations.

The agricultural sector in Worcestershire and the UK generally, faces a range of challenges that threaten its productivity, economic viability and environmental sustainability. The impacts of climate change, trade uncertainties post Brexit, labour shortages, policy reforms an economic pressures collectively contribute to the difficulties faced by farmers. Addressing these challenges requires collaborative efforts among farmers, policymakers, researchers and industry stakeholders to support the development of resilient farming systems and ensure the long-term success of agriculture in the UK.



The latest update of the Business Barometer is available. The report is a propriety survey of 1,200 companies, produced to look at the confidence levels among UK businesses every month. It gives an insight into emerging economic trends. The report covers a range of standard monthly questions from business activity and economic optimism to staff levels, wages and process charged. The key highlights of this latest survey are:

  1. Business confidence rises to an elven moth high of 33%, led by more optimism about the economy
  2. Wage expectations tick higher as hiring intentions improve for a fifth month in a row
  3. Share of firms planning to raise their prices remains elevated
  4. Areas seeing biggest confidence gains include the East Midlands, the South West and Northern Ireland
  5. Services confidence uplift led by hospitality and financial and business services.


There has been some interesting press coverage on financial products such as life insurance. The Daily Mirror wrote, one in ten adults has given up cover, such as life insurance and income protection, and a further one in five plans to stop policies to keep up with the cost of living. Latest figures from Scottish Widows reveal it handed out an average of £3.8 million per week, paying out more than 98% of life insurance and critical illness claims in 2022. Critical illness claims were up 11% in 2021.



Higher education is grappling with several significant challenges in the current landscape. One key issue is the rising cost of tuition and student debt, which continues to burden students and their families, limiting access and exacerbating socioeconomic inequalities. Additionally, there is a growing concern about the value of a degree and the readiness of graduates for the job market, leading to questions about the relevance and effectiveness of traditional higher education models. Another pressing matter is the need for innovation and adaptation to meet the demands of a rapidly changing world. Technological advancements and the rise of online learning have disrupted traditional classroom-based education, requiring institutions to navigate the transition to digital platforms effectively. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic further accelerated the shift to remote learning, highlighting the need for robust infrastructure, equitable access to resources, and effective pedagogical strategies.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion remain critical challenges within higher education. Institutions are grappling with the need to create inclusive environments, address systemic issues and ensure equitable opportunities for underrepresented groups. There is a growing focus on lifelong learning and the need for continuous skill development in response to evolving workforce requirements. Higher education institutions must adapt their curricula and programs to provide students with relevant, practical skills that align with emerging industries and professions. And to close, this week the Chartered Institute of Business Schools held its annual learning and teaching conference at the ICC in Newport. Perhaps not surprisingly the two most talked about issues of the day were the challenges of growing numbers of international students studying in the UK often bringing their own dependents with them (which the government announced on Tuesday would now be addressed by removing the option for future international students to bring dependents with them whilst they study in the UK). The second issue is the use of AI in education and in particular the use of ChatGPT – an AI chatbot – which provides significant challenges for the ways in which students are learning and assessed for their learning.



Surveys are showing that policy holders are reducing the amount of insurance cover they have as an attempt to save costs. The Insurance market remains hard with high premiums and reduced appetite but there are signs that it is stabilising. The CEO of the National Cyber Security Centre encouraged businesses to get Cyber Essentials Certification with evidence showing that certified companies are 80% less likely to have a cyber insurance claim.



Overall, we can see a decrease in the speed of decision making. Projects take longer in general before customers commit. We don’t see a cancellation of investment planning, but more hesitation. The supply chain is continuing to ease, but it’s by far not back to normal. The delivery times (especially for critical technical components) are starting to come down. The increase of input prices has significantly slowed down in the last 2-3 months. The inflation of the industrial supply side seems to be under control now. We were able to achieve the first price decreases in negotiations.



Whilst inflation has dipped slightly the cost of goods continue to rise, not least due to wage rises with some major retailers, like Lidl, saying that they have increased wages three times in the last year. Wet weather has hit a lot of early year retail. It has certainly affected us in camping but also other retailers, and ones far bigger have been hit by the much wetter start to the year than 2022. It seems obvious but early season sales of outdoor furniture or garden specific products have seen sales fall. It has also hit events. Whilst retail has been tougher and there are signs that people have been hanging onto their money, key ways this has been overcome, as reported over and over is having value as part of pricing – so showing big discounts. People love discounts but it has got to be a clear saving and marketed as such. Those that do so are doing well. Key examples are TK Maxx and the fastest growing value retailer in the UK – The Works.

Online has been key but people still love to see products so having exhibitions, attending shows or even pop-up shops are really popular. People love an online store now – but people still like finding surprises and so ‘deal of the day’ or ‘Today’s arrival’ is important. Keeping it fresh online is key and we see this with good quality emails as well. It’s also key that emails and information is giving away content. For us, for example, it’s our ‘how to’ videos and blogs. Offering payment plans – people like these more than do taking our credit cards to pay for products so we see the continued rise of Klarna, and now Clearpay as well. Younger shoppers, in particular go this way, rather than credit cards.

And sustainability is a must now. A clear policy with actual action is key – it can’t just be waffle. For us we’ve battled the constant rain this year to bring in investment, we’ve continued to grow our international presence – now by employing a German speaking sales and business development member of staff to support our growing sales in Germany. We’re developing more product for 2024 after the launch of OLPRO camping Furniture this year and we’ve signed a deal with a major outdoor adventurer type to design and create their camping products which will be duel branded. The announcement will coincide with his new TV show which Channel 4 are showing in the autumn of this year.

We’ve also just had our first outdoor event at our premises showcasing all current products, which went very well and we’re now well into the festival season with OLPRO appearing a two shows most weekends. Finally, we’re now absolutely B-Corp accredited and the first camping brand in the UK (possibly Europe) to be so.