How coronavirus has impacted the economy in West Sussex

A new report shedding light on the impact of coronavirus on the economy in West Sussex paints a mixed picture.

Coronavirus news
Coronavirus news

The monthly snapshot report was published by West Sussex County Council on September 23, just a day after new restrictions – including the rule of six and a 10pm curfew for pubs and restaurants – were introduced.

It found unemployment to be on the rise, with the number of people claiming Universal Credit for the principle reason of being out of work having increased at a greater pace than either regionally or nationally.

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In August, 27,710 people aged over 16 in the county claimed the benefit citing lack of work as their main reason – a rise of 5.5 per cent from the previous month.

This was most acute in Crawley and Arun – which both saw more than 5,000 claimants.

Overall, the numbers of people claiming Universal Credit in West Sussex has increased 143 per cent since January 2020 – from 24,762 to 60,128 in August.

However analysis by the Institute for Employment Studies shows that there was a ‘significant increase’ in new job vacancies being posted online in West Sussex in the month to August 9, compared to the previous month.

This suggests a slight upturn in hiring, which would be in line with national trends.

Both Arun and Chichester saw an almost 40 per cent increase in vacancies compared to the month before, the report found.

The majority of businesses in West Sussex (81 per cent) have adapted their business model or service as a result of the pandemic, according to the results The Tourism South East COVID-19 Business Impact Survey.

However, 13 per cent of those who responded felt that they were under threat of permanent closure as a result of the pandemic, and half were unsure, the survey found.

The report also noted that, since June, there have been more business incorporations than there had been in the previous year – with the majority of these in the Business Services, Travel, Personal and Leisure, and Construction industries.

This increase may suggest that individuals who are out of work or remain furloughed are exploring other employment options, according to the report.

While there were far fewer business closures than anticipated for this time of year, a large number of businesses currently remain dormant – 7,128 in total.

There were just 321 companies dissolved/in liquidation in West Sussex between March 23 and August 31, compared with 2,336 during the same period last year.

However this is potentially as a direct result of government interventions and initiatives to support business and the pattern might change when Government support reduces, the report noted.

The report also included updates from various business partnerships which operate in the county.

The Coastal West Sussex Partnership, which represents different sectors along the coast, said the ‘ever changing but necessary rules’ around coronavirus restrictions were making it ‘really difficult and challenging’ for hospitality and tourism sector businesses to operate.

This will impact hard on the area’s ability to recover, it said, warning that existing economic challenges were being magnified partly due to the over-reliance on the tourism sector along the coast.

In main towns and cities, there has been no local increase in demand for office space because of the uncertainty around new ways of working.

However it said that demand for industrial space was ‘very strong’ along the coastal towns, with demand much higher than supply.

Many manufacturing businesses seem to be performing ‘really well’ despite the pressures of the pandemic, the partnership reported, however it said: “It is really concerning that Brexit is just around the corner and many businesses have not yet had the chance to even think about the impact that Brexit may have on their businesses.”
Meanwhile the Rural West Sussex Partnership said that while the hospitality sector reported an uplift from the ‘eat out help out’ scheme, they were now ‘very concerned’ about rule of six impacting on Christmas business.

When it comes to accommodation, self-catering businesses were reporting ‘high demand’ for units able to accommodate family bubbles.

However bookings at larger premises for half-term, Christmas and New Year were being impacted by the rule of six.

Hotels and B&Bs were still reporting low demand, the partnership said, due to consumer concerns about shared common areas and social distancing, especially in a B&B home environment.

To read the report in full, follow this link.