St Helens firms sees rise in Q4 exports but skills shortage worsens

Latest St Helens Quarterly Economic Survey, carried out by St Helens Chamber, shows a rise in domestic and overseas sales for both manufacturing and services firms. Tony McDonough reports

Tracy Mawson
Tracy Mawson, deputy chief executive at St Helens Chamber

 

Both service and manufacturing businesses in and around St Helens enjoyed an upturn in sales in the final quarter of 2018, according to a new report.

However, the latest St Helens Quarterly Economic Survey, carried out by St Helens Chamber, also reveals firms in both sectors experiencing significant difficulties in recruiting people with the right skills.

The survey showed sales and advance orders improving for both manufacturers and service firms during the quarter were up in the UK and overseas, with exporters likely to be benefiting from the continued weakness of sterling.

Headcount growth

And it showed 73% of manufacturing firms who attempted to recruit had difficulties finding skilled manual and technical staff, with 66% of services firms also struggling to fill that category of recruitment – 32% reported difficulty filling professional/managerial vacancies.

Despite this there is optimism on the employment from, particularly along manufacturers, with 25% of respondents saying they plan to grow their headcount in the early part of 2019.

The key findings of the survey were:

  • Advance orders for manufacturers have moved strongly back into positive figures, with a +29% balance change. At the end of Q3 manufacturers reported a significant negative for advance orders, so this position has substantially improved.
  • 29% of manufacturers are now operating at full capacity, very similar to Q2 2018.
  • 25% of manufacturers expect to increase investment in plant and machinery in the next three months, another welcome increase from the +10% in Q3.
  • +58% of manufacturers are confident turnover will increase in the next 12 months, a very significant increase from +15% in Q3.

Looking ahead, 42% of manufacturers are confident that profitability will increase in the next 12 months, a very significant increase from the outlook in Q3.

Stronger quarter

Tracy Mawson, deputy chief executive at St Helens Chamber, said: “We are delighted to see a stronger quarter for St Helens firms, after worrying trends in Q3. Confidence around turnover, profitability, and recruitment plans has increased, and this is great news for the borough’s economy.

“Cost pressures and recruitment requirements may act as a brake, but we look to support firms with their growth as much as possible, including training staff to drive up productivity.

“2019 will be an eventful year and nationally the results are mixed. In the New Year the government must demonstrate that it is ready to deliver on business issues including recruitment of a suitable workforce.”

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) Quarterly Economic Survey brings together results obtained from surveys carried out by over 50 individual Chambers of Commerce and their associations across the UK.

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