Brexit fears and skills gap sapping confidence at Mersey firms, says chamber chief

Chamber chief executive Paul Cherpeau made offered assessment as the British Chambers of Commerce’s Quarterly Economic Survey made grim reading. Tony McDonough reports

Paul Cherpeau
Paul Cherpeau, chief executive of Liverpool Chamber of Commerce. Picture by Gareth Jones

 

Brexit fears and skills shortages are holding back Liverpool city region firms, according to the head of Liverpool Chamber of Commerce.

Chamber chief executive Paul Cherpeau offered his worrying assessment as the British Chambers of Commerce’s Quarterly Economic Survey illustrated the impact that relentless Brexit uncertainty, rising business costs and tougher global trading conditions are having on the economy.

The survey is the largest private sector survey of business sentiment and a leading indicator of UK GDP growth, closely watched by policymakers including the Bank of England.

This picture is reflected in the Liverpool city region as it is across the country, with underlying conditions such as skills shortages affecting businesses in addition to the wider economic factors.

Productivity and profit

Mr Cherpeau said: ‘The Q2 set of results clearly show the pressure being felt by our member businesses. Not only is Brexit uncertainty affecting confidence, both at home and abroad, but our region is also struggling to find the workforce resource that will boost productivity and profit in the long-term.

“It is vital that the Government puts in place robust plans that will unlock our trading future and the talent pipeline for businesses.”

The Q2 report showed that in the manufacturing sector, the balance of firms reporting growth in domestic sales fell for the third successive quarter and is now at its weakest for three years, since Q2 2016. The balance of firms reporting an increase in export sales also dipped to a three-year low. 

The services sector saw a slight increase in the balance of companies reporting higher domestic sales and orders, as well as export sales and orders. However, the uptick in activity was not enough to outweigh the significant drop in these indicators in the first quarter ahead of the original Brexit deadline in March and so all remain very weak by historical standards.

Rising costs

Brexit uncertainty looks set to continue right up to the new deadline of October 31 as the new Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Government look to play no-deal brinkmanship with the European Union.

Suren Thiru, head of economics at the British Chambers of Commerce, added: “These results indicate that underlying economic conditions in the UK remain decidedly downbeat, with intensifying uncertainty over Brexit, the rising costs of doing business in the UK and a sluggish global economy combining to suppress key drivers of growth.”

Alongside the QES Q2 report, the Chamber of Commerce’s Workforce Survey shows that businesses in the North West are suffering from a skills gap in the local economy.

A huge 60% of businesses reported that it takes them longer to fill vacancies than it did five years ago, which is allied with 46% reporting increased staff training costs and 50% of businesses spending more on recruitment.

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