South Yorkshire Chambers of Commerce call on government not to ‘level down our infrastructure’ as businesses experience tough fourth quarter

5th January 2023

On the publication of the South Yorkshire Infrastructure Survey, powered by the Quarterly Economic Survey for Q4 2022, the CEOs of Barnsley & Rotherham, Doncaster and Sheffield Chambers of Commerce said in a joint statement:

This has been another challenging quarter for the UK economy. Our survey captures the reality of this in South Yorkshire. As in other regions, most of the indicators are not pointing in the direction we would like, and there seems to be no let-up in the post-pandemic, post-Brexit recruitment challenges facing our firms. Many of our businesses are finding it tough.

There are some reasons for cautious optimism. Though significantly weaker than a year ago, there are tentative signs that business confidence in the future is beginning to level out after falling for most of the past year. Our business awards events over the last month celebrated the good that businesses do for our economy and our communities. They were showcases for the best of business and how our employers can inspire each other to succeed and grow, even in tough times like these.

As Chambers, we will continue to advocate for more support from government policy where it’s necessary – for instance in maintaining support on energy bills beyond the current package for those who need it most. And we are focused on growing the long-term potential of our economy. In the coming months we will be working intensively with employers, colleges, and other partner organisations on an ambitious Local Skills Improvement Plan, so our economy gets the skills it needs.

We’ll also be working with Chambers across northern England to campaign for infrastructure funding that matches our economic potential. We need to escape the ‘levelling-down’ cycle of infrastructure promises to the north that are followed by scaled back or abandoned projects. The last quarter saw the closure of Doncaster Sheffield Airport and ongoing disruption to transport services across northern England. So it’s no surprise that businesses believe that South Yorkshire’s rail and airport infrastructure do not meet their needs, or that the majority favour the compulsory purchase of DSA by the authorities to reopen it. But it’s important to remember the importance of other infrastructure too: for the largest number of businesses improving road and digital connectivity are the highest priorities for investment.

Highlights from the survey:

On South Yorkshire’s infrastructure

  • Survey respondents had most commonly experienced delays/issues as a result of the road network (53%), followed by the rail network (33%)
  • The most commonly-cited business impacts resulting from infrastructure issues were increased direct travel costs (42%), increased costs of products/services (31%) and loss of business opportunity/client dissatisfaction (25%)
  • 68% of responding businesses favoured a Compulsory Purchase Order of Doncaster Sheffield Airport as a means of keeping it operating as an airport

On the economic outlook

  • The balance of firms reporting an increase in UK forward orders was negative (-3%) for the second quarter in a row – the weakest performance since 2020
  • The percentage of businesses operating below full capacity increased to 60% from 56% on the quarter
  • 61% of firms reported that inflation was more of a concern than three months ago – slightly down on the 65% recorded in the previous quarter
  • 18% of businesses reported increasing concern about the exchange rate

On recruitment difficulties

  • A net balance of +18% of firms succeeded in growing their workforces – the lowest since the first quarter of 2021
  • Of firms that tried to recruit, most (90%) experienced difficulties, similar to the previous quarter

Comments from Chamber business award winners in South Yorkshire:

Adam Bradley, Director at Corrosion Resistant Materials – member of Barnsley & Rotherham Chamber:

‘Winning the Business Person of the Year…[it] means so much…Over the past 12 months, Corrosion Resistant Materials have gone from strength to strength and have seen dramatic growth from Exporting. The company exports to over 38 countries worldwide and has seen turnover surpass £2.4 million this year (55% of overall turnover) resulting in a Queen’s Award for Enterprise in International Trade and The Made in Sheffield Award for Export. The next 12 months will see us expand further in the Middle East, Far East and India as we seek to continue to grow from our base here in Rotherham.’

Chris Roberts, Founder and CEO, Nimble Approach – member of Sheffield Chamber of Commerce:

‘Being a Sheffield company, winning both the Scale-Up and Employer of the Year Awards means a lot to me personally, and it's a great reward for our Nimblers after a year of hard work, dedication and creativity. It's definitely been a difficult economic time. But focusing on our people has been the greatest investment we've ever made.’

Tom Rumboll, SYNETIQ CEO and IAA UK Managing Director – member of Doncaster Chamber:

‘We were delighted to win Large Business of the Year; it was a really proud moment for the whole team. Despite the surrounding challenges that the current economic climate brings businesses, we are growing due to a steady increase in demand for Green Parts… such as doors, headlamps and tailgates. Not only is there an increasing pressure for our clients to operate as sustainably as possible, but they now have the continued struggle of new parts availability, resulting in a long and expensive wait until the vehicles can return to the road. We’re experiencing more opportunity as a lower cost and lower CO2 solution to the challenges our clients are facing.’

Click here to see the full South Yorkshire Quarterly Economic Survey Q2 2022

Click here to see the latest policy briefing

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