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Phil Smith

Inflation and labour supply issues continue to threaten South West’s economic recovery

Inflation and labour supply issues continue to threaten South West’s economic recovery, according to the regional results of the British Chambers of Commerce quarterly economic survey, published by business support organisation Business West.

Over 250 businesses took part in Business West’s most recent survey of business conditions in the South West, and the overwhelming sense given off by the business community is that the economic recovery is at risk due to growing inflationary pressures and worker shortages.

Prices continued to rise in the third quarter of 2021, with a third of respondents reporting that they have had to increase their prices due to rising input costs.

Higher still is the proportion of respondents in the manufacturing sector forced into price hikes.

Seventy-six percent of manufacturers quizzed said that they were under pressure to raise prices as a result of the soaring costs of raw materials and more than half expressed alarm at the increasing cost of imports.

Rising inflation looks like a trend that is set to continue, with half of respondents expecting to increase prices in the next three months. This rises to 62 percent of respondents in the manufacturing industries.

In addition to inflation, labour shortages are having a widespread detrimental impact – stymieing business activity across the region.

Sixty percent of respondents had tried to recruit in the last three months, and 74 percent of these said that they had experienced difficulties finding the right candidates.

This is the highest percentage of businesses facing difficulties in the last four years – only followed by Q4 2018, when 71 percent of business recruiting said they faced difficulties finding suitable staff.

A Wiltshire farm shop and café owner, who wished to remain anonymous, told the survey: “We have two chef jobs with no applicants to running from April onwards. No suitable applicants for waiting staff and shop floor staff either.”

Although retail, leisure and hospitality are clearly affected, labour shortages are hitting the broader services sector hard, with 77 percent of service sector businesses reporting recruitment difficulties – eight points higher than in the manufacturing sectors.

These figures represent a quarter-on-quarter rise of 11 and 16 points respectively, suggesting the problem is only getting worse.

Skilled manual or technical (50 percent) and semi or unskilled roles (46 percent) are reported to be the most difficult roles to fill.

Typifying the challenge businesses are faced with, Roger Proctor MBE, managing director of the Bristol-based marketing agency Proctor & Stevenson said: “Recruiting and retaining developers, digital project managers and digital marketers is a real problem.

“Partial cause of this problem is that European candidates with the relevant skills are no longer in the UK or do not want to be here anymore.”

This was echoed by Emma Carter of Smarter Media in Swindon: “We have four roles currently available. There is a lack of candidates and those that are applying have none of the skills required.

“This is an industry wide problem and as a result, we are seeing significant increases in salaries, which only bigger/corporate companies can accommodate.”

Due to the unique set of challenges businesses are facing right now business confidence has stabilised after peaking following the reopening earlier this year.

Whilst there are a number of growth hurdles to overcome in the short, medium and long term, 37 percent of respondents said that they feel confident or very confident of the prospects of the UK economy for the next 12 months and 60 percent are feeling confident or very confident in their own business’ potential over the same period.

Business West Managing Director Phil Smith said: “The third quarter of the year maintains the positive outlook from quarter two, albeit with more moderate results.

“Businesses in the South West are on the path to economic recovery. Nevertheless, this is not without a set of complex challenges that must be addressed, such as labour market misalignments, skills shortages, inflationary pressures and trade constraints.”

To view the report findings in full visit: https://www.businesswest.co.uk/resources/quarterly-economic-survey-q3-2021

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