The immense challenges faced by businesses over the past year will have a lasting impact. And this is especially true for the hard-hit tourism and hospitality sector, experienced particularly by East and West Sussex. But, with resilience, economic ‘bounce back’, investment, and a cautious move towards the end of restrictions, can we allow ourselves some cautious optimism?
The Bank of England’s Chief Economist recently described the UK’s economy as a ‘coiled spring’ ready to bounce back. People who have been unable to spend their hard-earned money on leisure and retail, businesses who have taken advantage of cheaper loans and grants, and staff returning from furlough should all stimulate greater spend and economic activity as we approach what will hopefully be a full opening up of the economy over the summer months.
The national picture for small businesses, as reported by the British Chambers of Commerce, is cautiously optimistic. In a joint survey with the Funding Circle, 63% of businesses were confident about growth over the next year, with greater optimism seen in manufacturing firms than in hospitality which isn’t surprising. However, 38% of those surveyed expressed fear of future lockdowns.
In our area, Surrey and Sussex, particularly Sussex with its strong tourism and hospitality presence, the ‘coiled spring’ effect can’t happen soon enough.
Two regions. Diverse businesses. Many opportunities.
Pre-Covid, research by BDO LLP, showed the fastest growing businesses in Surrey, Sussex and Kent contributed more than £3.7bn worth of sales and more than 18,000 jobs to the UK economy. It may surprise many people that Surrey’s economy is worth £37.5 billion - bigger than Birmingham, Liverpool, or Leeds.
68% of businesses operate in services, construction, technology, and media. And there are over 60,000 business in Surrey alone including well known pharmaceuticals and corporations in the innovation and tech space such as Novartis, McLaren, BP, Proctor & Gamble, Samsung, and Siemens. And more are moving into the area like C&C Group, a utility software business who has recently relocated their HQ to Redhill.
Surrey and Sussex are home to many colleges and Universities including world-renowned institutions like the University of Creative Arts. We also of course, have Gatwick Airport, and border the country’s biggest airport, Heathrow.
The whole area enjoys a substantial leisure and hospitality industry due to the coastal towns and villages of East and West Sussex, Brighton, and surrounding areas.
A demographic change has also been predicted, which has been accelerated by the pandemic. The rise of remote working has led people to reflect on their lifestyles and home environment. This has resulted in upward pressure on demand and therefore increased house prices of around 10% (higher in some towns) in Sussex and Surrey. As families move out of London for more space, coastal, and country-style living, local populations are predicted to rise by 2030.
Investment is still needed, and it’s coming
To continue to improve the quality of lives, attract inward investment, create employment opportunities, and rebuild after Covid, communities, businesses, councils, and other authorities will need to come together. Some initiatives are already underway in Surrey and Sussex to define what is needed and how to get there. For example;
In West Sussex, recognition of the impact of the pandemic on jobs and livelihoods in Gatwick, Crawley and surrounding areas, has led to an ‘economy reset plan’ by the Council. This includes working closely on growth with neighbouring councils, investment in the Horsham Enterprise Park, focusing on skills, employment, and infrastructure.
In Surrey, transport, digital, and infrastructure have been highlighted as the areas most needing investment for the county to continue to thrive post Covid in a report by the University of Surrey. This is particularly important to encourage and facilitate the success of the many Surrey-based entrepreneurs embarking on new ventures.
Where pockets of significant job losses have occurred, local Council initiatives are hoping to upskill local communities and support local businesses beyond Government measures. Kingston Council’s programme is proactively working with local people and businesses to improve employment prospects in the area.
So what does all this mean for HR?
More businesses moving into the area, and more investment, will mean more job opportunities longer term.
Surrey and Sussex being home to many large and growing businesses and organisations means opportunities for HR professionals, as these businesses grow and focus on their people.
Continued remote working, hybrid working, and the end of restrictions will all see further change and challenges which will need to be carefully managed.
As we come out of Covid, mental health and wellbeing of employees must stay centre stage and HR will play a key role in this priority.
Businesses who have been ‘paused’, struggled or had to fire-fight their way through the pandemic may now need support in getting learning and development, training, career progression, and employee engagement strategies back on track.
As more people move out to Surrey and Sussex, there may be an opportunity for local firms to attract new talent. But equally in some sectors, such as hospitality, recruiting is turning out to be a significant challenge, which for larger hospitality businesses could impact their performance and ability to meet customer demand.
A bright future for the HR professionals of Surrey and Sussex
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