Hiring confidence rises as 'desperate' employers look to fill vacancies

Business hiring confidence has reached its highest level in more than a year, but the optimism is masking a "desperation" among employers to fill vacancies as Brexit looms.

A survey of 2,102 employers by recruitment giant Manpower shows the most positive jobs forecast in more than 12 months, with a national outlook of +6% for the coming quarter.

Hospitality emerged as the best-performing sector, up 14 points year on year to +16%, but Manpower said this is a sign of "desperate employers" scrambling to fill vacancies as post-Brexit skills fears take centre stage.

James Hick, of Manpower, described the surprise jump in confidence as a "mirage".

He added: "Up to 24% of all (hospitality) staff come from the EU.

"Given that the sector employs around three million people, losing that proportion of the workforce would leave a shortfall of three-quarters of a million people.

"In recent weeks we've seen more reports that the number of EU workers arriving in the UK is falling - particularly those from eastern Europe - and employers are racing to make up the shortfall."

Byron restructuring vote
Byron restructuring vote

Theresa May has ignored warnings from businesses that her plan to cut immigration to the "tens of thousands" will be detrimental to the British economy as she ploughs ahead with a Brexit that will see the UK exit the single market, cutting off a stream of workers.

The casual dining sector has also been pummelled by soaring business rates and the pound's collapse since the referendum, which has seen costs soar while also pushing prices up for hard-pressed consumers.

As a result, the likes of Byron, Prezzo and Jamie's Italian have all shut large swathes of their store estates recently, a worrying sign for a sector that generates £130 billion in revenue every year.

With Philip Hammond preparing to deliver his Spring Statement on Tuesday, Manpower is calling for the Chancellor to commit to "long-term policies around skills which will give UK businesses the clarity they need to invest for the future".

Meanwhile, the survey also showed construction sector confidence collapse by six points to just +1% as developers "sit on their hands".

Mr Hick said: "The construction sector has experienced a huge drop in hiring confidence this quarter.

"This chimes with recent PMI data showing a slowdown in all activity, even housebuilding, which saw its worst performance since July 2016.

"Despite political commitments around housing, the data raises questions around the future of policies such as Help to Buy. This uncertainty is causing developers to sit on their hands - a stance which may have been exacerbated by the recent house price falls in London."

In addition, investment in commercial developments, particularly in London, has fallen off a cliff since the Brexit vote as higher construction costs and uncertainty has seen developers delay new schemes.

With a sluggish housing market and a flat outlook in finance and business services, London sits towards the bottom of the regional table with a reading of +2%.

Only Yorkshire and the Humber is more pessimistic with a seven-point fall to +1%.

The East tops the regional charts at +10%.

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