A new business survey from one Liverpool city region chamber of commerce reveals grim statistics on jobs, cashflow and investment. Tony McDonough reports
Firms in one Liverpool city region borough say cashflow and employment levels were now under severe pressure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In its latest Quarterly Economic Survey (QES), St Helens Chamber of Commerce reports that, although there were signs of recovery in the third quarter of 2020, the final quarter of the year showed a slowing in progress.
Workforce reductions are shared by a third of respondents, with increases reduced to just 3%, which is below Q2 figures (5%). The figures show that employment figures remain significantly below normal levels.
Not a single manufacturer who responded to the survey increased their workforce in the last quarter of 2020, with a third saying they are likely to decrease it in the coming quarter.
The majority of services firms feel that their employment level is likely to remain constant, but 14% expect to increase their workforce and 14% expect to decrease. The majority of roles being recruited for are in the semi/unskilled and skilled manual/technical areas.
The number of firms now saying they are operating at full capacity has risen to 28%, from 24% in Q3 and 14% in Q2. The majority of St Helens firms continue to hold their own on the sales-front, but more than a third report that both domestic and international sales, and future orders, have decreased again.
This is not a universal picture 22% of respondents are reporting increases in this quarter and 18% say that future orders have increased. Cashflow remains the most significant problem businesses are facing.
The uncertainty and drop in demand that they have experienced is impacting on investment levels, with nearly half of all firms responding saying that their investment in plant, equipment and training will decrease over the next year.
While 2020 has caused a drastic fall in business overall, there is a minority of businesses increasing domestic and international sales, and recruiting locally. And 54% of firms continue to plan for growth again over the next 12 months.
Tracy Mawson, chief executive at St Helens Chamber, said: “This is the third Economic Survey the chamber has conducted since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and these latest results highlight in no uncertain terms that local firms are still a long way from business as usual.
“Though the vaccine rollout provides real optimism, with a further sustained period of tougher lockdown restrictions to tackle the new variant of COVID-19, St Helens Chamber is clear that far more and broader national and local efforts to boost business and consumer confidence is needed to help firms create and retain jobs and underpin our local economy.”