North Dorset Business News

Gloom to the left, worry to the right…

It’s been a difficult time over the last couple of months; and there are still many challenges facing both consumers and businesses as we emerge from the pandemic, reflects Dorset Chamber’s CEO Ian Girling

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The last thing we needed as we return to normality was the fuel shortage, brought about by distribution problems due to a shortage of HGV drivers and then compounded by the panic buying that ensued.
This situation was inevitable as soon as the transport minister Grant Shapps appeared on television to say “there is no need to panic buy” which I think was probably the worst thing he could have said; the impact of this was immediate with scenes reminiscent of the fuel crisis so many of us will remember, some 21 years ago.
We are also now facing the unprecedented situation of second hand cars increasing in price due to a shortage in new cars, caused by post-lockdown demand and a shortage of semi- conductors. Autotrader are reporting that used car prices have increased an incredible 24% in the last 12 months, pushing the price of some used cars above the price of a new vehicle. It sometimes feels like we’ve entered the twilight zone.

Energy struggles

Both shortages of materials and rising prices continue to be a challenge for both consumers and businesses. It’s certainly a problem for the construction industry with huge increases in the costs of materials such as timber, and rising energy costs forcing up the very difficult to recruit and this rises to an incredible 92% in hospitality. In the third quarter, job vacancies here in Dorset reached highs not seen since costs of cement and bricks. Many building firms have told me this is a major challenge, and now a quote can only hold for a week at most given the continuing rise in prices. We are also seeing rocketing steel prices. The energy crisis is also a big concern for us as consumers and businesses, and these continued price rises will lead to further challenges in the economy.
The inflation we are seeing will place financial pressure on us as consumers as the true value of our £ diminishes. This in turn will place wage pressure on businesses, another hurdle to overcome for many after the pandemic.

Recruitment woes

Businesses across most sectors are also facing huge challenges around recruitment. A recent national survey reported that on average 77% of firms looking for new people are finding it very difficult to recruit and this rises to an incredible 92% in hospitality. In the third quarter, job vacancies here in Dorset reached highs not seen since 2013 with 22,804 vacancies – a 35% increase on pre- pandemic level (January to March 2020), over 60% up on same period last year and 40% up on 2019. This is the last thing business needs as we try to re- open the economy.

A way forward

As I write this, it all seems a bit gloomy; and frankly we’ve all had enough of bad news. I haven’t even mentioned Brexit… However as we look forward it’s absolutely vital we see strong leadership in Westminster and Whitehall. We need a very clear forward path for our economy – and I don’t think this is evident at the moment. Nationally we are calling on Government for a clear road map for the recovery of our economy and it’s vital the Government focus on these issues that are affecting us all.

by Ian Girling CEO Dorset Chamber

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