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Tougher times still to come for businesses

Shropshire Chamber of Commerce has welcomed many of the measures announced this afternoon to support the ‘economic emergency’ facing the county over the coming months.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak, delivering his Comprehensive Spending Review, said the Government’s immediate priority was to protect people’s livelihoods, and lives.

Shropshire Chamber chief executive Richard Sheehan (pictured) said: “The statistics revealed today highlight the extent of the deep and damaging scars which Covid-19 has left on our economy, which is facing its largest fall in output for over 300 years.

“Many of the measures announced this afternoon are a roll-over of policies already in place, recognising the fact that for many sectors, the economic emergency has only just begun. This is a critical time for our business communities.”

Mr Sheehan welcomed support for lowest paid workers across Shropshire, and increases to the national living wage.

And he said the Government’s commitment to faster broadband, and greater mobile connectivity, would be vital for recovery in rural areas such as Shropshire – particularly at a time when more staff are working from home.

He added: “It is understandable that the Chancellor is only looking ahead for one year, rather than the usual three, given the huge uncertainties that remain.

“Unemployment is not expected to peak until the second quarter of next year, and it looks unlikely that our economy will have returned to pre-Covid levels until at least the end of 2022.

“All of this means that it has never been more important for Shropshire’s business community to stand together, supporting one another however and whenever we can. Working together, we are always going to be stronger.”

Mr Sheehan said the launch of the National Infrastructure Strategy was an important step in overcoming the longstanding infrastructure deficit – and said the time had now come to focus on fast and efficient delivery. 

Telford College has welcomed Government initiatives to help further education colleges play a pivotal role in rebuilding and re-skilling the economy as the UK recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Graham Guest, principal and chief executive, welcomed plans for a ring-fenced fund to improve facilities at further education colleges, expansion of cash incentives available to companies taking on apprentices, and multi-billion pound support for re-skilling employees.

“With unemployment forecast to continue rising over the next few months, the further education sector will have a vital role to play in helping to rebuild and re-skill the workforce for the post-Covid economy.

“We welcome reports of £138 million to fund technical courses, which are in such demand right now, capital investment in FE college facilities, and a renewed commitment to invest in sector-based work academies - which Telford College have been running successfully for many years.

“Extension of the Kickstart programme – another initiative which we are already closely involved in – is also going to be a welcome move to help young and long-term unemployed people back into jobs.”

Mr Guest said the Government’s Lifetime Skills Guarantee would open up great access to qualifications for the people of Shropshire who need access to training and reskilling opportunities.

“We are ready to step up to this challenge, and look forward to hearing more details from the Government about exactly how this is going to work.

“Retraining adults affected by the pandemic’s impact is going to be absolutely essential over the coming months, and we are constantly adapting our curriculum to reflect the needs of local employers.”

He added: “It has never been more important, as we tentatively find a way out of this pandemic, to ensure that we can support those who are at greatest risk of being left behind.

“We have already provided laptops to dozens of our students who are either disadvantaged, or most vulnerable, to ensure they are able to remain fully connected. Capital funding for further investment in technology is welcome.”

As a member of the Association of Colleges, Mr Guest echoed the comments of chief executive David Hughes who said: “The Chancellor is right to invest now and over the coming months in securing jobs and improving skills.

“The steps set out are the right things to do, given the effects of the pandemic look set to be with us for longer than most people expected. We need a skills-led recovery, and Telford College is ready to step up and play a pivotal role.”

Elsewhere, Simon Badley, managing director of G.N. Badley & Sons butchers in Trench, Telford, said: “It’s clear that our economy will have to endure a lot more pain over the coming months – and there is a real danger that many independent traders may not make it through these difficult times.

“That’s why it’s more important than ever for the people of Shropshire to support their local businesses, whenever and however they can, in the run-up to Christmas.

“Like ourselves, many small independent traders use a network of local suppliers – so by giving us your custom, you are not only helping the stores themselves to survive, you are also securing jobs in their local supply chain too.

“The knock-on effect can be truly life-saving for many hard-working independent businesses.”

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