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Business hiring confidence rallied in early December, despite deepening economic concerns

Neil Carberry, REC

Employers became more confident in their ability to hire new staff over the past month, despite the onset of more Covid-19 restrictions and growing concern over a no-deal Brexit. That’s according to the latest JobsOutlook report from the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC). 

The report found that employers’ confidence in making hiring and investment decisions rose by six percentage points in the three months to November, compared to the previous rolling quarter. This put confidence levels at net: +1, returning to positive territory for the first time since January-March. However, their confidence in the wider UK economy fell by a further two points to net: -51, reflecting the high stakes of both the Covid-19 situation – and the last stages of tense Brexit talks.

Employers’ intentions to hire permanent staff have been improving since the summer. Demand for permanent workers in the short term (next three months) grew by six points to net: +20, while medium-term demand (four to twelve months) grew by five points to net: +22. 

An increasing number of firms have been looking to the support of temporary workers to see them through the run up to Christmas. Short-term demand for agency workers rose by five points from the previous rolling quarter to net: +6. Medium-term demand meanwhile rose by eight points to net: +12.

Just 6% of employers surveyed believed that their business was fully prepared for Brexit in November. With no deal yet in place, and concerns around a new strain of the virus, the REC agrees with many other business groups that a sensible grace period in the weeks after January 1, so that businesses can adapt to new rules with little notice, is required. 

Neil Carberry100x100Neil Carberry, Chief Executive of the REC, said:

“This has been a rollercoaster of a year for businesses – and last Saturday’s announcements were another turn on that ride. Our report today points to a more hopeful future for the UK jobs market, if we can begin to get through the crisis as the vaccine rolls out.”

“Business leaders around the country will be working out what the new controls mean for them – and taking the steps necessary to protect strained cashflows. It’s essential that the economic response stays in step with this, and that repayments of 2020’s support don’t get in the way of 2021’s recovery, in areas like the VAT deferral and on loan schemes.” 

“Even now, the challenges at the border remind us that we need business to flow as normally as possible from January 1st to help us make progress, whatever the outcome of the Brexit talks. Just 6% of the businesses we surveyed felt they were prepared for Brexit. That’s because their most basic questions are still unanswered – like how to invoice their customers in the EU or travel for business from 1 January. Like many business bodies, we believe a grace period is now imperative so that firms have time to adapt to new rules. It’s important that this applies to services – about 80% of our economy – as well as goods, meaning the grace period should extend to business travel rules and permission to trade services in EU member states for a short period.”  

Other key figures from the latest JobsOutlook include:

  • In the three months to November, 56% of employers who hired temp agency workers said they used them to manage uncertainty, up from 41% a year earlier
  • One in three employers anticipated a shortage of permanent (36%) and temporary agency workers (31%), with concern most heightened for Health and social care workers
  • A quarter (26%) of employers had made redundancies and 36% had reduced workers’ hours in the year to September-November 2020, both up from 11% in the previous 12 months.

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