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Thames Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Quarterly Economic Survey shows businesses feeling more positive

A decrease in the number of Thames Valley firms struggling to find staff is welcome news, according to Thames Valley Chamber of Commerce.

The ease in hiring challenges was one of the key findings of the Quarterly Economic Survey, which the business organisation runs regionally on behalf of the British Chambers of Commerce.

But recruitment remains a challenge for Thames Valley businesses. 65 per cent said they were struggling to hire – this went up to 72 per cent for firms looking for acquire managerial and professional talent, compared to 49 per cent for those looking for skilled manual or technical workers.

The survey also noted a surge in domestic sales, with 50 per cent of Thames Valley firms saying UK sales had increased, up from 44 per cent in the last quarter.

Business leaders who responded to the survey said their biggest concerns included inflation (63 per cent) and interest rates (53 per cent). Concern over business rates had fallen from 75 per cent in Q1 to 11 per cent in Q3.

One of the most promising aspects of the survey was an increase in businesses that expected their profitability to improve (reported by 48 per cent of respondents) cash flow (40 per cent) and turnover (71 per cent).

Paul Britton, CEO of Thames Valley Chamber of Commerce, said: “The results of the QES present a welcome decrease in the number of firms reporting hiring challenges, however
the recruitment crisis still looms large and continues to be a handbrake on growth for the Thames Valley.

“Local employers are making efforts to introduce greater flexibility in their work arrangements; however, they continue to grapple with the task of recruiting and retaining the right talent to navigate these economically challenging times.

“The situation is especially difficult in the hospitality and manufacturing sectors.

“Whilst many employers are committed to investing in training, most require additional assistance in acquiring the necessary workforce skills.

“Implementing positive changes in the tax and skills systems to encourage workplace training and development is crucial.

“Employers are prepared to co-invest in workforce development, but the time has come for Government to heed the concerns of employers and swiftly enact reforms to the apprenticeship levy, facilitating broader access to the training individuals require.

“To address the ongoing issues around recruitment difficulty which has been a long-standing issue for the last seven surveys, we are also asking for Government to commit to Local Skills Improvement Plans that unite employers and providers in strategising for future skills demands.

“Looking ahead, our economic projections indicate that the next couple of years will present significant challenges for all. Resolving the recruitment crisis is pivotal to reigniting economic growth.”

The local figures will be fed into the national Quarterly Business Survey from the British Chambers of Commerce – Britain’s biggest and longest-running private business survey.

The survey, a leading indicator, often picks up changes in the economy long before other surveys and official statistics and consistently mirrors trends in official data. It remains closely watched by both UK Government and the Bank of England.

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