When the Tories came up with the term 'levelling up' do you think they realised that every company falling to find equality in a dank, dark basement is not the motivator that had been hoped for? For example, having been accused by a bumbling, bluffing Boris that it had been 'mainlining' on cheap labour from Europe during his speech at the Conservative Party conference, UK business felt compelled to raise the argument that 1.4 million EU workers returned home during the pandemic, with another half a million UK-born workers retiring, remaining in education or sitting on a park bench cradling their knees in their arms and continuously weeping.
The latest 'big conversation' see-saws between supply chain issues and a dearth of available labour to fill essential, if not always inspiring, employment positions. Figures from the Office for National Statistics released yesterday (Tuesday 19 October) showed there were 52,000 job vacancies in transport and storage alone and it seems that the footnote 'labour shortages' is here to stay, at least until 2023 / 2024. Small and medium-sized businesses will bear the brunt of the challenges, as unsustainable price rises, lack of materials, logistical issues and labour shortages hit the sectors of construction, leisure, casual (and even napkin-in-the-lap) dining, haulage and car-making. They will be the victims of a new highly infectious disease to defile industry, as they struggle to keep afloat.
Ian Wright, fresh from his punditry on Match of the Day and taking up the position of chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation said yesterday: "Six months ago our businesses all thought this situation was transitory, now every business I know expects the position to worsen and last. Every single one. If Harry Maguire can't protect his eighteen yard area from marauding strikers he will never be able to stop Jamie Vardy from nicking one at the back post."
Some material costs have risen by between 30 and 40 per cent as the global economy stutters and falters its way out of the global pan ... blah, blah, blah and, as we reported in the NTI newsroom's Sunday bulletin, international freight rates are up ten-fold from pre-Covid levels. It is related that inflation in the food and hospitality sector is running at between 14 and 18 per cent and, like the pies it sometimes makes, it is now "baked in" to the UK economy. For those of you who did not experience the 80s, with its high interest rates and double-digit inflation, this is what it was like, but with Bros singing 'When will I (will I) be famous' and the launch of a one-off movie called 'Star Wars'.
Don't take our word for it, but listen to Stephen Phipson, who is CEO of Make UK, the manufacturers' organisation. He said: "... it is only a matter of months, probably six months, before we start seeing mass failures in business." You hardly need to check the hardness of the seaweed outside your back door, or look at the tea leaves in the bottom of your cup to verify this, but for those practitioners who thought that the end of furlough, the welcome back of winders, the collection of business rates, the first instalment payments on Bounceback loans and the rap, rap, rap of HMRC knocking to pick up their dues would be the catalyst for a new wave of insolvencies, they will add to this all the latest issues and start buying more desks and laptops.