Firms ‘remain to be convinced’ by industrial strategy plans

Sir Nigel Knowles   Picture: Andrew Roe

Sir Nigel Knowles Picture: Andrew Roe

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MANY business leaders have still to be convinced that the Government’s planned industrial strategy will help to improve living standards and boost economic growth, according to an influential survey.

Nearly half of the 300 business leaders who were questioned as part of the Sheffield City Region’s Quarterly Economic Survey said they didn’t know enough about the industrial strategy.

The study concluded that 75 per cent of manufacturing firms in the city region had increased their employment expectations during the first quarter of this year, but many companies were experiencing problems finding the right staff. Some manufacturing firms were finding it hard to find skilled manual and technical workers, while, in the services sector, some companies reported problems recruiting managers.

Earlier this year, the Government set out draft plans for its new industrial strategy, which aims to help the UK become more competitive on a global stage.

Professor Andrew Simpson, of Sheffield University Management School, said in his foreword to the report: “On balance, businesses in the Sheffield City Region remain to be convinced by the Government’s proposed industrial strategy.”

Prof Simpson said that businesses who took part in the survey hoped the strategy would encourage growth across the country, boost trade and investment and provide support for new and fast-growing businesses.

He added: “Overall, the message from Sheffield City Region businesses is positive, as they look to invest in plant and people and see opportunities to increase sales; putting the turbulence of the last year behind them.”

Sir Nigel Knowles, the chairman of the Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership, highlighted the fact that super car makers McLaren and aerospace company Boeing had made “a major commitment to the region, bringing high value jobs and great supply chain opportunities”.

He added: “Looking at the Government’s proposed industrial strategy, we know that businesses want to see the right local institutions to support people, industries and places. That’s why we are telling Government that we want to see greater local decision-making as an important part of the strategy.”

The survey found that Sheffield City Region firms have continued to deliver growth in domestic and export markets since the New Year. They are also increasing investments in plant, people and training, the study concluded.

Dan Fell, the chief executive of Doncaster Chamber, said: “Many employers are saying – despite macro-economic headwinds such as Brexit – that it is business as usual and they are experiencing solid growth.

“However, many firms are facing higher costs which increasingly translates into companies having to raise their own prices and charging customers and consumers more.

“With inflation already above the Bank of England’s target these pressures look set to continue, during this continuing time of uncertainty and I suspect that, in the not too distant future, we may see a tapering of business confidence.

“Recruitment remains a big issue for many firms and there is a fear that an inability to access the right talent could constrain growth aspirations.”

Mr Fell said that business and education must join forces to ensure young people are ready for the world of work.

The survey’s findings were discussed at a debate held at the Source, near Meadowhall, which was chaired by Greg Wright, The Yorkshire Post’s deputy business editor.

Ashley Shackleton, the head of public affairs at the British Chambers of Commerce, told the meeting that he hoped the planned industrial strategy would create a sense of national mission, and secure broad public and political support.

The quarterly economic survey (QES) is conducted by the chambers of commerce in Barnsley & Rotherham, Doncaster, the East Midlands and Sheffield, with the backing of the local enterprise partnership and support from Sheffield University Management School.

The results are used to influence government policy at a national and regional level. The findings also help to shape the support structures available to the local business community.

The QES is sponsored by The Source, a training and development centre, which is based near Meadowhall.

To find out more visit www.screconomy.org.uk

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