The discussion, attended by 150 of the region’s top business leaders, discovered the pressures facing employers. With the immediate future becoming less predictable and little government guidance, 40% of employers across the region said the pressure to keep people safe, motivated and able to do their jobs, is the concern most likely to keep them awake at night.
The new poll follows on from Grant Thornton’s International Business Review which was conducted in April, during the country’s COVID-19 enforced nationwide lockdown. In April’s poll, business leaders ranked keeping people safe, motivated and able to do their jobs as their biggest challenge, which was reflected in November’s poll where 51% of leaders said keeping their staff safe and in jobs is their biggest challenge, interestingly 35% now say that keeping up with the changing demands and expectations of customers is their biggest challenge.
Additional data insights show that a significant proportion of the UK workforce (16%, 4.8 million people) remained on furlough as of 31 July and, notably, there are around 100,000 more women on furlough than men across the UK. The East of England has 212,000 women and 183,200 men on furlough, a 15.7% difference. This is likely a result of the industries that are more affected by furlough.
The insights show that as a result of lockdown, 3.3% of businesses in the East of England reported having no cash reserves and 34.9% have less than six months’ worth, putting the region in a more favourable position than the UK average of 40.9%.
Asked where they felt the government could best add their support, 37% of business leaders identified that it would be most beneficial for the low tax regime to be maintained with 24% saying an extension to the December deadline on the furlough scheme would help their business the most.
Rob Thomson, Tax Director at Grant Thornton says “It has been a stressful period for business leaders and it was encouraging to see that businesses in Suffolk are resilient and feeling more positive about the future. The region’s leaders really identify the importance of investing in people and their ability to do their jobs. We also saw that extra support from the government is vital and many are relying on the low tax regime. As we head into the second national lockdown, it is fantastic to see Suffolk’s business leaders feeling positive about the future.
Alexandra Nelson, Partner at Birketts says “The results from our business leaders is a real insight into their positive mindsets and priorities as Suffolk goes back into lockdown. Ensuring our people stay safe, motivated and able to successfully do their jobs remains at the heart of the concerns and challenges raised. It is also really encouraging to see that diversity and inclusion remain key to the ongoing success of Suffolk businesses and that in the midst of all the challenges our businesses are taking advantage of the opportunities available from the wider, non-geographically limited talent pools enabled by remote working.”
C-J Green, Chair, New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership and panellist at the discussion says “It is no surprise to see that people’s wellbeing is at the centre of the poll results. As we head into the second lockdown and people start to hit an exhaustion wall, the reality is we need to be flexible with how staff are allowed to manage their work life balance. This can be an exciting step forward for how the business industry works. It is imperative that we recognise the need to stimulate economic recovery by investing in local infrastructure which will allow us to make jobs for the future.”
Compared to national standards, while Suffolk has low levels of COVID-19 vulnerability it has a poorer recovery performance meaning it may have more long-term implications from the pandemic.