Business survey counts cost of Covid impact

Tough year for businesses across the region, but confidence rising for year ahead, according to Leeds City Region Business Survey 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted most businesses and all sectors in West Yorkshire. According to the Leeds City Region Business Survey 2021, 56% of businesses said performance had declined in the last year, with one in six reporting a decrease in turnover in the past 12 months.

Results from the Business Survey were discussed at today's West Yorkshire Economic Recovery Board. The data from the survey and other key economic intelligence will form the basis for updates to the West Yorkshire Economic Recovery Plan.

Most businesses have had to take some form of action in the way they manage their workforce, with two thirds reporting that they had furloughed staff or had applied for the governments job retention schemes.

Nearly half of employers provided facilities to allow for homeworking, but in addition many also had to make other changes, such as reducing working hours (35%), asking workers to take on additional tasks (26%) or moving staff to alternative roles (16%).

Some recovery is expected in the next 12 months with many businesses tentatively signaling a more positive post-pandemic outlook. Looking to the future over half of those surveyed said they expected staff who were working from home to return to their usual work location by the summer.  

While staff numbers largely decreased over the pandemic (one in six had made redundancies over the course of the pandemic), businesses are confident that staffing levels will return to normal by next year.

Nearly a quarter of businesses are looking to increase head count within the next 12 months, similar to business intentions in preceding years.  

The Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP) is supporting business recovery through a variety of grant funding including investment to purchase equipment to support home working.

The LEP Employment Hub has also been supporting businesses with their recruitment needs throughout the pandemic, giving free and impartial advice such as how to support those at risk of redundancy, upskilling existing staff to meet business needs and talent matching suitable candidates with vacancies.

Tracy Brabin, Mayor of West Yorkshire, said: "Today I chaired the latest meeting of the West Yorkshire Economic Recovery Board, which brings together our local authority leaders, businesses and the voluntary and community sector from across West Yorkshire to agree action to support our economic recovery.  

"Working in partnership is essential for the region’s economic recovery from the pandemic and ensuring long-term prosperity and resilience. The LEP has done a fantastic job in supporting businesses through this very difficult period and together we will work to drive the inclusive growth we so desperately need, to ensure we continue to improve the quality of life for all West Yorkshire residents. We will continue to focus on investment in skills and training and diversity to rebuild a stronger, more innovating and productive workforce built for the future."

Sir Roger Marsh, OBE DL, Chair of the LEP, said: "The Leeds City Region has been heavily impacted by the pandemic, but there are encouraging signs of recovery. Businesses have shown incredible resilience during what has been a very difficult year for everyone and its positive to see that confidence is rising once more as we look towards further economic recovery.

"It’s encouraging to see businesses looking to recruit and expand their workforce in the coming months, and we are looking at how our Employment Hub can continue to support both businesses and job seekers to match talent to roles in the region."

Cllr Shabir Pandor, Combined Authority Portfolio Lead for Business, Economy and Innovation, and Leader of Kirklees Council, said: "The LEP and Combined Authority are continuing to support economic recovery in the region and ensure that West Yorkshire is the best place to start or grow a business.

“Through the Economic Recovery Board, convened by the Combined Authority, we continue to press government for the additional funding detailed in our Economic Recovery Plan, which is required to ensure an economically thriving West Yorkshire.”

BMG Research carried out the survey our behalf of the LEP between February and March 2021. Around 2,000 businesses in all sectors were surveyed across the West Yorkshire districts of Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees, Leeds and Wakefield. The headlines of the Business Survey can be found here and the full results are available here.