THE GOVERNMENT and business must work together to improve the skills of workers across the North of England to ensure the UK remains competitive after Brexit, a major business event heard.
The event, which attracted some of the leading figures from South Yorkshire’s business community, was told that parts of the Sheffield city region’s economy are too reliant on low-skilled workers.
The Sheffield City Region Quarterly Economic Survey Breakfast, which was held at the Vulcan to the Sky Hangar at Doncaster Sheffield airport, provided a snapshot of how the regional economy performed in the three months after the EU referendum.
The survey concluded that the UK’s vote to leave the EU has had a mixed impact on regional businesses, with manufacturing firms taking a more positive outlook than those in the service sector. More than half of the 400 survey respondents said the vote in favour of Brexit had not influenced their investment decisions, although a “significant minority” indicated the vote had affected their spending plans.
The keynote speaker, Paul Swinney, the principal economist at the think tank Centre for Cities, warned that the North faced challenges as the UK prepares to leave the EU.
He told the audience: “England and Wales has a greater ratio, a greater share of high skilled jobs, relative to low skilled jobs, than what we see in the Sheffield City Region economy. We see that across services and manufacturing.”
He added: “That has to be the challenge for policymakers. How do we start attracting more higher skilled investment which will have an impact in terms of the performance of the economy..in terms of the types of jobs that are available, and the amount of money in people’s pockets?”
He said the Sheffield City Region must consider how it was going to attract this type of investment as the global economy moves on after Brexit.
He added: “The number one challenge is about trying to improve skills. If you’re a business person and you’re looking to stick a pin in the map, particularly if you’re going to invest elsewhere in the world, you want to stick your pin in the map where you can get the workers that you need to drive on your business, and have that impact on your bottom line.
“The challenge, for not just for the Sheffield City Region but actually for the North as a whole, (and) this comes right back into the Northern Powerhouse agenda, is that, what we tend to see, is that, residents of the North have fewer qualifications than what we see further south.
“The North of England does not perform well in terms of skills relative to the rest of Europe, and that’s going to have an impact in attracting business investment.”
Dan Fell, the chief executive of Doncaster Chamber, said Britain must not talk itself into a recession after the vote in favour of leaving the EU.
He added: “Government must help foster confidence and certainty by cracking on with big ticket infrastructure investment and supporting businesses on critical areas like skills, education and supporting young talent.”
The service and manufacturing sectors expect to see increased orders, turnover, prices and profitability, according to the latest Sheffield City Region quarterly economic survey. However, the balance of these was generally lower than in the previous quarter with the exception of prices, which are expected to rise, the survey concluded. This possibly reflects a potential rise in costs associated with the devaluation of the pound.
Many of the respondents wanted the Government and Bank of England to focus on securing favourable rules for trading with EU countries after Brexit.
Dan Fell, the chief executive of Doncaster Chamber, said the results showed the need to boost business investment, stabilise the pound, raise productivity, and clear red tape.
The breakfast event also included a round table debate about Brexit chaired by Greg Wright, The Yorkshire Post’s deputy business editor.
Sir Nigel Knowles, chairman of Sheffield City Region LEP, said: “The Quarterly Economic Survey plays an important part in shaping our policy and support for local businesses. I believe that hard data, contemporary commentary, case studies and testimonials should influence strategy and inform the Sheffield City Region’s approach to local, regional and national decision makers and foreign direct investors.
“Shaping policy, ensuring that businesses can compete domestically, globally and securing prosperity and a good return for the local community are core to our mandate. If we know the challenges, issues and opportunities, we can work as partners to deliver and be accountable for doing so.”