An update from Surrey Chambers CEO – 16th December 2020

16th December 2020

It is always risky writing a column at a time when a number of momentous situations are in play! As we go to print, the decision about Christmas mixing seems to be fairly solid albeit in the face of much pressure for people to be very careful over the festive period. We also await the Tier review, which will come into play on the 19th December, and could potentially have a huge impact on local businesses. As if that wasn’t enough, we still await a final deal with the EU. Achieving a UK-EU trade deal is critically important to avoid a damaging cliff edge for the UK economy. We can only hope that the government does manage to close the major gaps in the guidance available to help businesses to prepare for the end of the transition period. The Surrey Chambers International Trade team is ready for whatever changes have been announced. The department has doubled in size and all four have been fully trained on the new Customs requirements.

Forward projection

As much as I want to finish the year on a positive note we cannot ignore what some of the economic statistics have been telling us. The sharp slowdown in economic output in October reflected the squeeze on activity from the re-introduction of tighter coronavirus restrictions, including the tier system in England. Firms in hospitality, who were most immediately exposed to the renewed restrictions, suffered particularly badly in the month, but this obviously has a huge ripple effect through the whole economy. This slowdown is likely to be followed by a significant contraction in economic activity in November as the effects of the second coronavirus lockdown were felt, despite the prospect of a temporary boost from Brexit stockpiling.  While a vaccine offers real hope, mass testing remains crucial to keeping the economy moving until the Covid-19 vaccine is fully rolled out.

Kickstart developments

The unemployment rates in the boroughs and districts of Surrey, ranging from 2.2% to 3%, are very different from this time last year when no Borough or District had over 1% unemployment. In fact, the biggest issue for businesses was filling jobs. Sadly, one of the age groups particularly affected is the 16-24 year olds, many of whom may never have even started their first job. According to recent figures nearly 10,000 16-24 year olds in Surrey are claiming Universal Credit, compared with less than 2,000 last year. We are very excited that, as a Gateway organisation, we are now going to be able to help some of these young people. In our first batch of approvals from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) we have been able to help 65 businesses to provide 204 placements. As the process starts to pick up speed we hope that there will be many more placements working their way through the process.

This will be my last column for this year so I would like to take this opportunity to wish you and your families a healthy and enjoyable Christmas from all of us here at Surrey Chambers and we look forward to sharing information and updates in 2021!!

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