WHILE the number of people seeking work in Warrington has increased by a staggering 97pc from pre-pandemic, the town’s new Chamber Chief Stephen Fitzsimons says significant investment in the New Year offers hope for those seeking employment.
With unemployment rates normally low in Warrington compared to other parts of the country, DWP figures for December revealed 8,918 were seeking employment, compared to less than 5,000 in February.
But while there are still difficult times ahead he says there are “significant investments commencing this year, including Gousto and Home & Bargains at Omega, with taks ongoing with other investors and still plenty of interest in Warrington as a business location.
He added that it was now important to highlight the opportunities of support for businesses from the Chamber, Warrington Business Exchange, Warrington & Co and the Growth Hub and to “help each other as best we can.”
Stephen said: “Like the rest of the UK and much of the world, Warrington is experiencing another difficult lockdown. Covid infections have risen again, partly because of the new variant first identified in the South East of England.
The contrast with the Christmas period is stark. From queuing to park in Golden Square to metaphorical tumbleweeds blowing through the town centre in just a couple of weeks. It is a situation that is sadly now all too familiar.
“The human cost is tragic, however, the impact on employers and employees is also upsetting. Whilst they appreciate that the situation has often deteriorated quickly, there has often been a distinct lack of notice and no overall plan for business recovery. This is especially evident in hospitality where restaurants and cafes spent significantly on food ingredients, only to be forced to throw them away when forced to shut down. Similarly, we know of individuals who were made redundant the day before the furlough scheme was extended. Of course any government would struggle to steer the economy through these challenging times, however, it does feel that ministers are frequently on the back foot.
“During normal times, Warrington experiences lower levels of unemployment than the national average with less than 5,000 residents actively looking for work. Sadly, this has increased by 97% and there are ongoing concerns for staff at Debenhams, Molson Coors and the Arcadia brands. Thankfully, there are significant investments commencing this year, including Gousto and Home Bargains at Omega. We are also speaking with another couple of potential inward investors so there is still plenty of interest in Warrington as a business location. Logistics doesn’t always receive the recognition it deserves and having received the grand tour of Amazon, the level of innovation and engineering expertise is as good as anything in a manufacturing environment.
“I appreciate that some businesses did not receive their November lockdown grants until January. This took too long, although it was not because the Council didn’t try hard enough to process them. They received over 2,600 applications and the team worked evenings and weekends to get through the volumes. This time Warrington has been allocated an additional £14.7m in financial support. Given that most eligible companies are now in the system, payment should be much quicker this time around. This will not cover every company in need and we know that home registered, self-employed dividend receiving business owners are still not catered for. Consequently, the Federation of Small Businesses estimates that 250,000 companies will not be around by the end of year. It’s therefore vitally important that we support our local traders when they are able to operate again.
He added: “There is no pretending that the next few months are going to be easy. It will be tough for so many people and it’s important to highlight those organisations that can offer support, including the Chamber, Business Exchange, Warrington & Co and the Growth Hub. Let’s help each other as best we can whilst staying safe.”