Why Yorkshire businesses need support to get through Covid-19 - Roger Marsh

The Leeds City Region has faced many challenges due to the pandemic.The Leeds City Region has faced many challenges due to the pandemic.
The Leeds City Region has faced many challenges due to the pandemic.
As our region continues to confront the Covid-19 pandemic, its impact on our businesses and the people they employ over both the short and long term is a great cause for concern.

Yet I am also hugely proud of the resilience and innovation demonstrated by so many in responding to these most adverse of circumstances.

As we near the scheduled end to the second period of national lockdown, we urge everyone in West Yorkshire to continue to play their part to beat the virus by following the current rules and guidance.

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At the time of writing, it is not yet clear what the Government’s post-lockdown plans are and the implications for West Yorkshire.

After much negotiation between councils and government last month, the region was due to be placed into the highest tier of local restrictions, only for this to be superseded days later by the announcement of the national lockdown.

Speaking to the local business community, this lack of certainty around the future is making it hard to plan effectively.

Many businesses that had done the right thing and kept staff on through furlough had banked on the £1,000 job retention bonus as an important part of their cash flow, which has been postponed.

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Businesses have made great efforts to adapt to the current operating environment, bringing in safe working practices and innovating how they operate to keep serving customers.

Prioritising public health and safety is the correct course of action, but if we are to come through this crisis, we need a comprehensive package of support for businesses and individuals affected by those controls – and more importantly, the certainty to plan ahead.

The economic situation we find ourselves in is severe.

By late summer, the UK economy as a whole was more than 9 per cent smaller than at the start of the year – a far deeper economic contraction than the 6.4 per cent fall in GDP seen during the financial crisis of 2008. In West Yorkshire, almost 5,000 businesses were dissolved or liquidated during September and October. Part of this is the system catching up, as restrictions on business liquidations put in place earlier in the year were lifted in September, as well as reflecting the unprecedented economic environment.

The unemployment rate in West Yorkshire has risen by 87 per cent since before the first lockdown began in March. While the extension to the furlough scheme has mitigated some impact on job losses, jobless claimant numbers in West Yorkshire now stand at almost 107,000.

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Bradford has the highest youth unemployment rate in the country, and without steps to engage this cohort with skills, training and job opportunities, we run the risk of real damage to the life chances of a whole generation.

Yet in the midst of this, there are some grounds for cautious optimism. Local restrictions and the national lockdown have caused a slowdown in hiring, but although online job vacancies in our region are below where they were in March, they are higher than in summer. While the retail, hospitality and arts sectors continue to struggle, we are seeing increased demand in health and care, IT and finance.

The LEP continues to see high levels of demand for support from businesses across our region. By halfway through the year, it had helped over 2,500 businesses, and by the end of September had provided intensive support, which includes grant and/or one-to-one advice from a business support professional, to 1,100 businesses.

I hope the Government will commit to support our £1.4bn West Yorkshire Economic Recovery Plan, developed in collaboration with civic, business, trade union, health and third sector leaders.

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It builds our region’s world-leading position in health innovation, maximises our capabilities as the UK’s fastest-growing centre for digital, has the potential to create up to 70,000 jobs and opportunities by becoming a net zero carbon economy by 2038.

By Roger Marsh OBE - Chairman of the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership