South Yorkshire Chambers urge government to boost support for COVID-hit firms after landmark survey reveals challenges ahead

6th January 2022

In a joint statement by the CEOs of Doncaster, Sheffield and Barnsley & Rotherham Chambers of Commerce, they said:

"Businesses in South Yorkshire desperately need some good news as we start the new year. Our landmark business survey, the QES, recorded continued solid growth in domestic sales and orders in late 2021 as growth in exports weakened. This was alongside rising price pressures on multiple fronts, especially from transport and energy costs. Our experience matches the UK picture with inflation worries increasing sharply and the majority now expecting to raise prices this quarter.

"But this was before the triple whammy of Omicron, rising interest rates and new post-Brexit trade rules took effect.  The disruption caused by the latest phase of the pandemic touches businesses across our economy. We welcomed the measures on sick pay and for hospitality and retail announced in December. But the impacts of supply-chain disruptions and cancelled orders go wider than these sectors.  The scope of support should reflect that - whether or not the formal rules are tightened. This could include increasing the business rates discount for the hardest-hit to 100%. Without business the country would lack the resources to fight the pandemic.

"But we mustn’t lose sight of the longer-term challenges and opportunities too. Rising cost pressures and recruitment difficulties were a persistent feature of 2021. They will remain so through the first half of 2022. We need to fix deep-seated problems in our region’s labour market.  As Chambers, we are working closely with employers and our partners across the education sector to better link people to job opportunities through our regional Local Skills Improvement Plan*. For South Yorkshire to reach its potential we need more people with the skills for the modern workplace and new and emerging sectors."

Highlights from the South Yorkshire Quarterly Economic Survey

  • Balance of firms reporting increased domestic orders rose by 5 percentage points on the quarter; growth in export sales remained positive but the balance of firms reporting increases fell back 4 percentage points
  • Companies were feeling the impact of COVID and Brexit even before the latest developments with Omicron. 38% of respondents said both COVID and Brexit were having a negative impact, 31% were affected by COVID-19 only and 13% Brexit only. Only 18% reported neither as having a negative impact.
  • Supply-chain disruptions and rising energy costs are feeding through into increased prices.  Most South Yorkshire firms polled (57%) now expect to raise prices over the next three months (58% for the UK) with raw materials costs and other overheads contributing the most.
  • Recruitment difficulties were not easing up before Omicron but intensifying: 86% of firms that tried to hire reported that they had difficulty finding staff. This figure has been on the rise since Q4 2020 and throughout 2021. Longer-term, the Respondents cited barriers of cost (25%), convenience (24%) and availability (23%) to the skills training they need to upskill their workforce and address gaps in capability.

QES survey results were drawn from 396 responses collected over 1-26 November 2021.

*On Tuesday 18th January South Yorkshire Chambers are hosting an interactive workshop for employers around their future workforce growth and development needs. The event will be virtual: to book please follow this link.  If you can’t attend the session but want to contribute – please complete the Employer Survey to have your voice heard.

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