Coronavirus: A third of firms to cut jobs in the next three months say British Chambers of Commerce

When Birmingham-based engineering firm Lontra advertised 10 jobs on a new production line, Chief Executive Steve Lindsey expected a few hundred applications at the most. Instead, he got 15,000.

“It’s gratifying and worrying at the same time. I would love to employ them all,” he told Sky News.

While it is the company’s ambition to one day employ that many people, less than one-in-a-thousand applicants will be successful this time. The consolation for the remainder is the knowledge their CV was at least looked at.

“They’re going to try to review every single one. I think that’s fair. We’ll do our best. Clearly it’s a challenge. But I think you should always do your best by people,” Mr Lindsey said.

The experience of Lontra can be seen as a barometer of the state of the jobs market. And the latest data from the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) suggests the outlook is set to deteriorate further.

According to its latest coronavirus business impact tracker, 33% of firms surveyed say they intend to make redundancies over the next three months despite lockdown measures easing.

The survey found that, on average, businesses are operating at just over half (53%) of their full pre-COVID-19 capacity. Reduced demand and possible local lockdowns were cited as the major obstacles to fully restarting day-to-day operations.

BCC Director General Adam Marshall called on the government to offer more support.

“Ministers really are going to need to take further action to reduce the cost of employment,” he said.

“This is not something that can be done overnight. It is a long process and it’s going to take sustained and pretty radical support over the months ahead.”

The Hertford-based McMullen pub chain is similarly braced for the long haul with customers still cautious about returning.

Its Prince Louis pub in Great Notley, Essex, had 15 reservations on Tuesday night. The same day last year there were 30.

“It’s as tough as it’s ever been,” according to McMullen’s joint Managing Director, Heydon Mizon.

“We forecast that we will still be double-digit decline come Christmas.”

Across the company, sales have dropped between 25-30% since reopening. Its hardest hit pubs in central London have seen trade plummet by 75%.

McMullen predicts it will take up to three years for its profits to return to pre-pandemic levels. But it could take a lot longer for the UK jobs market to rebound.

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