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13 July 2020

Business leaders upbeat on challenges ahead

Business leaders upbeat on challenges ahead

Business leaders in Dorset have charted a course for a post-COVID-19 recovery that champions investment in skills, young people, infrastructure and low-carbon solutions.

An upbeat Zoom conference produced many shared thoughts on the challenges facing companies and organisations, and the further measures required to help them as the county’s economy emerges from the crisis.

Fifty-eight participants from a range of sectors attended the ‘Back to Business’ event hosted by Dorset Chamber and Dorset Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

Setting the context, Ian Girling, Chief Executive of Dorset Chamber and Dorset LEP Board Member, highlighted the need to maintain and strengthen business support to enable continued access to finance, mentoring and retraining opportunities.

“The pandemic has exposed the precarious position of many businesses who are in distress because they have little or no working capital and have seen orders cancelled.”

Ian pointed to data from the latest Quarterly Economic Survey carried out by the British Chambers of Commerce which had shown several key indicators for business performance dropping to 31-year lows, and said that in Dorset there was particular pressure in tourism, leisure and hospitality.

Jim Stewart, Chair of Dorset LEP’s Board, said Dorset LEP has responded to COVID-19 through Dorset Gateway, Dorset LEP's free business information, advice and support service run with the help of Dorset Chamber.

Dorset Gateway has continually provided the latest COVID-19 information on the funding and support available to businesses and the self-employed, staying up to date with new government funding streams. The growth hub has also provided additional resources help businesses to cope in the short-term coupled with a focus on longer-term infrastructure and skills investment and a need to create more apprenticeships.

The Dorset LEP Chair said that there has been more than 400 enquiries to Dorset Gateway during lockdown and all feedback has been used to influence the government on their continued support. Dorset LEP has recently launched Crowdfund Dorset Business which is still open to businesses in need of cash flow at this time; the scheme offers local businesses the opportunity to receive up to £5,000 of match-funded support from Dorset LEP.

Jim Stewart continued to cite several examples of how Dorset LEP was helping to build closer working relationships between education providers and businesses. These include support for apprenticeships via Weymouth College and Bournemouth & Poole College, and the provision of incubator space for business start-ups at Arts University Bournemouth.

“We are redoubling efforts to identify and fix skills gaps, particularly in marketing, tech and analytical job roles, so that companies can be stronger, greener and more adaptable.”

He also announced that Dorset LEP will be launching a series of webinars and one-to-one business support sessions in partnership with local accountancy firm Smith & Williamson, to assist businesses as they look to trade out of the crisis.

Also at the conference were Matt Prosser, Chief Executive of Dorset Council, and Chris Shephard, Director of Development at BCP Council. Both answered questions on the impact of the virus on green investment and said new ways of working prompted by the crisis could see less congestion and commuting in future.

At the same time, several participants agreed the move to more home working exemplified why 5G infrastructure and a full fibre network needed to be rolled out across Dorset.

Other points raised included calls for furlough support to be continued after the end of October for priority sectors such as hospitality and the arts.

Discussing support for young people, Paul Tansey, Managing Director of Poole-based B2B marketing agency Intergage, feared disruption to education and the current lack of work experience opportunities would create a, 'tsunami of mental health issues for young people'.

It was a point picked up by Michael Johnson, Vice Principal of Bournemouth & Poole College, who called for more collaboration – and less competition – between education providers in Dorset so that more resources could be put into skills training for unemployed people rather than diverting resources away from front-line support.

Dorset LEP has recently published Dorset's latest Labour Market and Skills Research insights, including a dashboard on the effects of lockdown on the recruitment activity on Dorset and spotlight dashboards on the skills demand within Dorset's key industries.

Finally, three ‘instant polls’ were held during the conference covering general business outlook, turnover expectations and projections on workforce size.

Compared to polls at previous Dorset Chamber events, more respondents anticipated having a smaller workforce in three months’ time but there was a more positive outlook both on general business optimism and turnover forecasts.

Visit www.dorsetlep.co.uk/dorset-gateway for more about support available to all businesses in Dorset.

ENDS

Notes to reporters:

Dorset Chamber of Commerce and Industry was founded in 1949. It is fully accredited by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) and is the leading business support organisation in Dorset. With more than 700 members it is the second largest BCC-accredited chamber in the south west. As well as business support, the Chamber also acts as the voice of business to make the county’s case heard locally, regionally and internationally. It has an affiliated network of town chambers and is represented by chief executive Ian Girling on the Dorset Local Enterprise Partnership board. Visit https://www.dorsetchamber.co.uk/ for more details or call 01202 714800.

Delivered by Dorset Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), Dorset Gateway is part of the national Growth Hub network, providing an informed and bespoke service, free to any Dorset-based businesses looking for help to source appropriate available solutions for growth and development.

In partnership with Dorset Chamber, Dorset Gateway offers free and impartial business advice, signposting to other support and funding opportunities to help businesses grow. As the central information and support hub for all businesses in the county, Dorset Gateway also provides access to a range of business engagement and innovation networks, and a fully funded bid-writing support service for businesses across Dorset.

Social media links:

Dorset LEP Twitter: @dorsetlep

Dorset Gateway Twitter: @dorset_gateway

Dorset LEP LinkedIn: @Dorset LEP

Dorset Gateway LinkedIn: @Dorset Gateway

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