Cumbrian businesses suffer during the ‘Pingdemic’ chamber poll reveals

Suzanne Caldwell

Cumbria Chamber of Commerce’s latest members’ survey has underlined the extent of recruitment and staffing issues across the county.

More than 55% of respondents have suffered due to members of staff having to isolate after being ‘pinged’ by the NHS Test & Trace App.

And around 10% of all responding businesses have had to close due to staffing and recruitment issues.

Other data from the quick-fire poll of more than 200 businesses highlights:

  • 65% of businesses have been negatively impacted by recruitment issues and hiring staff amid the ongoing labour and skills shortage
  • 21% of those affected report the impact beginning during the ‘pingdemic’ of the past two months
  • 43% of businesses which have remained open have had to run at a reduced capacity due to a loss of staff which are having to self-isolate

Suzanne Caldwell, managing director of the Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, said: “Our latest poll and its findings are a continuation of that work and it endorses what we have been highlighting and lobbying the Government for this year – a relaxation of immigration policy, financial support extensions, short term work visas under an Australian-style model, the Erasmus replacement Turing Scheme to come into effect months ago rather than in September, as well as a better UK-EU arrangement around red tape on exports and access to workers.

“The snapshot shown from this feedback shows that businesses are far from out of the woods. Many are still having to operate at reduced capacity, which has a serious impact on their ability to recover. And in the visitor economy it means that they can’t make the most of the ‘staycation boom’ to help remedy the last 18 months.”

She added: “The Government needs to pro-actively look at how it can continue to support employers with a business-first approach as all experts are predicting the effects of the current issues to continue to impact on economic growth well into 2022.”

A number of responding businesses in the survey confirmed in detail how they have to reduce opening hours and/or the level of operating service due to staffing issues, which were magnified by issues related to the Test and Trace App.

One Ambleside-based business stated: “We need support in recruiting and the knowledge of where and how to recruit effectively. The fact that there is a lack of people wishing to work within an industry that is hugely exciting and offering many opportunities is so disappointing.

“There is still a massive stigma attached to working in a general public-facing role in this format and we need some proper structure for the industry to recruit, whether that’s through a variety of means including an Armed Forces-style recruitment drive.

“Employers need to be advised and helped regarding conditions of work and contracts.”

A Kendal-based business said: “We own multiple cafes, one of which has had to close as four staff members were ‘pinged’ in the same week. We are now having to reduce our offering and close two days a week going forward as we can’t find enough staff to reopen at full capacity.”

And a Cumbrian manufacturing business said: “The whole COVID situation has affected our supply chain for months and continues to do so with further outbreaks in Asia causing factories to close for two to four weeks.”

Another manufacturer added that “some supply issues of raw materials and price increases due to increased transport costs” were its key concerns.

A business which focuses on training put the blame on the Government “who should not have opened the free-for-all without properly thinking the effects through”.

A wedding-focused hospitality business stated that: “We have been affected by the direct closure of parts of our supply chain, closure of local hotels that directly affects our clients’ ability to stay in the locality.

“Also, relatives of staff getting pinged, which has directly affected our ability to provide the correct staffing levels needed to operate. However, the app is only part of the issue. We need to tackle the problem, not just the effects of it.”