32% of Suffolk firms may make job cuts as recession hits

A sign reminding people to socially distance and wear a mask Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

A sign reminding people to socially distance and wear a mask Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

As Britain goes into its deepest ever recession, a new survey has found nearly a third of Suffolk businesses may have to make staff redundant.

According to a poll commissioned by Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, 32% of 159 firms surveyed are thinking of making staff redundant and 24% of those will have to let up to five people go.

Paul Simon, Suffolk Chamber’s head of communication & campaigns, said the survey’s findings were “indicative”.

The news comes as the Office for National Statistics (ONS) announced that the UK had entered a recession for the first time in 11 years.

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Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – a measure of how well a country’s economy is faring – plunged by 20.4% between April and June the worst quarter on record.

In the three months before April GDP slumped by 2.2%.

Despite a better-than-expected recovery of 8.7% in June, the UK economy is not forecast to recover to pre-Covid levels until the end of 2021.

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Paul Simon, Suffolk Chamber’s head of communication and campaigns, said: “Behind the headline decline in GDP figures is the lived reality of many Suffolk businesses desperately trying support their cashflow, hold onto customers and suppliers and protect jobs.

“It is a testimony to our business community’s sheer resilience and agility that most have made it through to late summer.

“While there was a pick-up in activity through the quarter from the historically weak April outturn, Suffolk Chamber is worried that the prospect of a swift ‘V-shaped’ recovery remains remote, particularly as Government support measures wind down.

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“Suffolk Chamber’s most recent members’ survey suggested that 32% of local businesses are thinking of or will be making staff redundant and 24% of those businesses will be making up to five staff redundant

“Furthermore, more respondents – 42% – said they were not confident of the Government’s approach to lockdown than those expressing confidence – 35%.

“Therefore, we are calling on the government to be bolder to immediately inject confidence back into the UK economy. This should include supporting businesses to retain staff through a cut in employer national insurance contributions and targeted support to help businesses placed under local lockdowns, plus an extension of the furlough scheme for particularly hard hit or strategically significant sectors.”

Earlier this week the ONS announced that across the country 730,000 fewer people were on company payrolls.

Andrew Diver, head of taxation at Suffolk accountancy group Beatons, said: “Unfortunately it was probably expected that the country would fall into recession and that unemployment would increase in stages as government support is lifted.

“Funding in the form of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme provided breathing space for businesses who were able to furlough their employees.

“However, as things have become clearer in many industries, it has been impossible to function with the same level of customers and staff in the same setting.”

The ONS said the collapse in output was driven by the forced closure of shops, hotels, restaurants, schools and car repair shops.

The services sector, which powers four-fifths of the economy, suffered the biggest quarterly decline on record.

Mr Diver added: “The ONS statistics reveal the hospitality industry – which is now being helped by the Eat Out to Help Out scheme – as being the highest faller, followed by the construction sector, motor vehicles and manufacturing.

“Some other sectors have remained stable which gives more weight to the government providing more industry specific support to maintain future jobs.

“What is particularly concerning is that the ONS figures release to June 2020 show the decline in private sector jobs of 535,000 has been partially masked by increases in public sector jobs which were up by 269,000.

“The question will be how many of these were temporary roles to aid with the initial challenges of the pandemic which might not necessarily exist in the longer term or whether these are more permanent roles.

“Of course, we should anticipate now that government support is coming to an end, further businesses may be forced into liquidation as cash is depleted before the end of the year which would create further job losses.”