Uncertainty continuing for Black Country businesses

Chamber chief executive Corin Crane

That is the warning from Corin Crane, chief executive at the Black Country Chamber of Commerce who is calling for a more strategic approach from the Government to address the plethora of problems confronting the business community and its employees in the region.

“We are hearing the most worrying figures,” said Mr Crane. “We know approximately 177,500, from the eligible 513,000 Black Country workers, are currently furloughed which amounts to 35 per cent of the workforce, this sits above the UK average which stands at 32 per cent, proof, if it were ever needed, that October is a real crunch time for region’s businesses as the furlough scheme comes to an end and debts rise.”

Last week the Chancellor revealed a form of replacement for the furlough scheme in a bid ‘to continue protecting jobs’ under a new flexible furlough targeted at industries that will be hardest hit by the new Covid restrictions.

The New Job Support Scheme, which will see the Government directly support the wages of people in viable jobs, has been given a cautious welcome by businesses.

Mr Crane added, “Potentially we could be looking at huge numbers of redundances, if 20 per cent of furloughed staff lose their jobs this month in the Black Country, it will put 35,000 people out of work.”

In August, the region had 66,820 claimants, an increase of 3.1 per cent from July, with an extra 28,545 residents claiming benefits since March, an increase of 74.6 per cent.

Amongst the younger population there was an increase of 1.8 per cent from July to August with 13,830 youth claimants in the region, the figure rose by 6,080 from March.

This week the Prime Minister announced a more agile approach to learning for those over the age over 24, with emphasis on technical education and the ability of a well-resourced and supported Further Education sector to transform peoples’ lives whilst also meeting the needs of industry.

“The focus on adult training is welcome,” said Mr Crane. “Whilst fewer over 50s will lose their jobs in a recession than 16 to 24-yearrolds, fewer of them will return to work; this represents a significant amount of wasted talent and opportunities. As such, the PMs announcement will benefit older workers and I would urge local employers to embrace talent wherever in the community it comes from.

“However, to be successful, it is imperative that Government gives regional economies and partners far more control, not just over local skills, but more resources must be devolved to West Midlands Combined Authority for local decisions to be made that will benefit the region’s population and business sectors.

“We need longer term budgets for WMCA, our local authorities, the LEP and FE Colleges so they can plan properly for Covid and recession support, extra resources are also required by business support agencies, such as local Chambers of Commerce, to help in times of local lockdowns, therefore we are asking the Government for more autonomy, we are the local partners who know much more about what local businesses and communities need more than policymakers in Westminster and Whitehall.

“As you would expect, the chamber is leading the way and remains ready to support our members – from our role as the engine powering the forthcoming Black Country Business Festival, through to our work developing opportunities to train and equip employees and leaders with the skills and insights to drive their business forward.”

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