Skills shortages, Brexit and low pay mean one in eight struggle to recruit

13% of all business say it’s harder to fill vacancies than usual (up from 9% in August).

The most common reasons were a lack of applicants with the right skills (67%), fewer EU applicants (25%) and the fact that the role isn’t paid enough (15%).

Recruitment is hardest among hospitality businesses (30% are finding it harder to recruit), followed by the water industry (27%) and health (23%).

15% of transport and storage businesses are struggling to recruit. Half say fewer EU applicants is a factor (46%).

There were a record 1,034,000 vacancies in the UK between June and August.The ONS released an article on recruitment struggles this morning: Hospitality businesses are most likely to be struggling to fill vacancies – Office for National Statistics (

Sarah Coles, personal finance analyst, Hargreaves Lansdown: “More than one in eight businesses are fighting a losing battle to recruit the right people. The world of work has shifted, and there aren’t enough applicants with the right skills. Meanwhile, Brexit has persuaded many EU workers to leave the UK, and in some industries, people just aren’t willing to do the work for the pay on offer.

It makes life nigh-on impossible for recruiters. Part of the problem is that the world of work is changing. Retailers, for example, have had to close stores and lay staff off as footfall dropped, then to meet the needs of more online demand they’ve opened new distribution hubs and hired more warehouse staff and drivers. It means booming demand in some areas and shrinking in others, and staff may not have the skills or the inclination to make the move.

They also face the enormous challenge of recruiting after so many EU nationals have left the country. In a post Brexit world, some wanted to be closer to family or to work in an environment that allowed more freedom of movement. The number of EU nationals working in the UK fell by 8.7% in the early months of the pandemic (while the total number in employment overall fell 2.4%).

Even now, many of them haven’t returned. In the transport and storage industry the number of EU HGV drivers fell by 43% in the year to the end of March. This is likely to owe something to the difficulties and delays caused by working with new systems, which they don’t face when working within the EU.

Among the available talent pool, some firms struggle with the fact that the pay isn’t good enough to attract staff. This is a particular problem for professional, scientific and technical roles. It’s also something regularly faced by businesses paying minimum wage for difficult work – such as care.

We’ve already seen this theme emerge in company reports, where businesses ranging from hospitality to computer games development have raised concerns about recruiting difficulties. In some cases, this means businesses are struggling to operate effectively, which in turn is putting the brakes on GDP.

We’re also hearing reports of wage increases to attract staff, and while this is good news for those in underpaid careers, it causes issues for employers, who are seeing a squeeze on all of their costs, so a higher wage bill is the last thing they need.”

Asset finance market grew by 80% in April 2021

New figures released today by the Finance & Leasing Association (FLA) show that total asset finance new business (primarily leasing and hire purchase) grew by 80% in April 2021 compared with the same month in 2020. In the first four months of 2021, new business was 15% higher than in the same period in 2020.

The commercial vehicle finance sector reported new business up by 140% in April compared with the same month in 2020. The plant and machinery and business equipment finance sectors reported new business up by 58% and 43% respectively, over the same period. By contrast, the IT equipment finance sector reported new business 13% lower in April than in the same month in 2020.

Commenting on the figures, Geraldine Kilkelly, Director of Research and Chief Economist at the FLA, said: “The strong growth reported by the asset finance market in April was not unexpected given the adverse impact of the first lockdown on new business levels during the second quarter of last year. The latest figures show that the recovery in April was broad-based, with finance provided for investment in a wide range of vehicles, machinery and equipment. The fall in IT equipment finance new business reflected the relative strength of this sector at the start of the pandemic.

“If the industry maintains the performance we have seen in recent months, it would be on course to reach its pre-pandemic annual new business total by the end of 2021. We urge the Government to recognize the importance of the asset finance market in supporting business investment and extend the super-deduction allowance for expenditure on qualifying plant and machinery to include leasing.”

Castle Corporate Finance Appoints Alex Nursey in New Management Role

Castle Corporate Finance is pleased to announce the appointment of Alex Nursey. Alex joins the award-winning corporate finance specialist as a Manager, assisting the team on current transactions and managing them day to day, as well as helping to identify new business opportunities.

Alex will be project managing and advising on a wide range of assignments, bringing his experience to bear to add value for clients at every stage of a transaction process. “No business is the same, and every owner has a different strategy. It is my job to help them realise their ambitions by ensuring the transaction runs smoothly. It also means offering proactive advice along the way to make a difference to the business owner.” Alex said.

Alex qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 2014 with Crowe UK and spent time in their Audit and Corporate Finance teams, in both Kent and London, where he gained experience with a wide range of businesses in terms of their size, sector and importantly in their stage of maturity. Predominantly whilst in Kent, Alex worked with owner-managed SMEs and in London with companies that were looking to list on one of the UK’s capital markets. He also spent some time in industry, in a private-equity backed business.

Alex sees his key challenges in this role in 2021 as getting up to speed and making a meaningful contribution to Castle’s clients while working remotely. “It is strange to join a new firm in the middle of such circumstances, but I am feeling surprisingly settled already, and am working on some exciting projects.” Alex said.

It is impossible to ignore the COVID-19 backdrop, although hopefully there is light at the end of the tunnel now with the vaccine roll-out. There has been no shortage of transactions during the pandemic, however the challenge will be to continue to identify the right opportunities and support Castle’s clients as they navigate the tail-end of the pandemic and settle into some sort of new normal.

Commenting on the outlook for 2021, Alex said, “As we speak, the Spring budget is still in place. With much talk of changes to the Capital Gains Tax regime going forward, I expect to see M&A activity increase with owners trying to secure tax-efficient succession planning before any deadlines that may be set in the forthcoming budget. Castle has also completed a number of Employee Ownership Trusts (EOTs) over the last 18 months and I see these becoming more popular in 2021, as business owners seek different ways to exit in a tax efficient manner, and at the same time increase employee engagement. I also anticipate an increase in re-financing and recapitalisation opportunities as businesses seek to best position their balance sheets to accommodate the extra debt that may have been secured during the pandemic; or for those that need extra facilities to capitalise on growth opportunities that arise, as the UK returns to some level of normality.”

ParcelHero says many famous High Street stores could become online ‘ghosts’

There could be tears from loyal shoppers as Boohoo proceeds with its purchase of Debenhams’ brand and online business, says the home delivery expert ParcelHero. Amid fears that Debenhams’ High Street stores will be left to a lingering death, there are concerns that the online experience could become a pale shadow of in-store shopping at many former favourites.

ParcelHero’s Head of Consumer research, David Jinks MILT, says many of Britain’s much-loved stores have become ‘pure’ online brands and more will follow. Says David: ‘ASOS could well snap up Arcadia brands Topshop, Topman and Miss Selfridge in the next few days, retaining only the websites. They will join the growing ranks of online ‘ghosts’ created over the last year, including Oasis and Warehouse (snapped up by Boohoo) and other former physical shops such as TM Lewin and Hawkins Bazar.

‘Only last month, the plus-size clothing specialist Evans was bought by Australian online fashion store City Chic from the struggling retail chain Arcadia. Again, the physical stores will probably be left to wind down. As more High Street brands succumb to an online-only existence, is anything left that captures their original spirit?

‘The recent fate of several of these retail ghosts does not bode well for the latest crop that have switched to online only. The wonder of Woolies didn’t survive long as an e-commerce brand after this High Street fixture closed down in 2009. Brits missed its famous pick n’ mix and huge range of goods but that didn’t translate online. Woolworths relaunched its website in June 2009 but, by 2015, the business had dwindled so significantly that the site was closed for the final time.

‘Similarly, in 2016, BHS closed its High Street stores but planned to keep the name alive online. The essence of BHS was good-quality, affordable kids clothing, a great lighting department and family-friendly cafes. The Qatari Al Mana Group purchased the company’s international franchise stores and online operations and relaunched online under the new brand name “The British Home Store” in September 2016. Again, the online venture failed to capture the spirit of the original and closed in June 2018.

‘Perhaps BHS does point a way to a more successful future, however. A limited BHS website has resurfaced, focusing on one of its former core strengths – a great lighting range. Litecraft Group Limited now use the BHS logo and the “BritishHomeStore London 1928” brand name under licence.

‘This begs the question: what could and should be kept of brands such as Debenhams? How can home deliveries capture some of the magic of these stores’ former glories? The answer lies partly in their new websites, of course; they must capture the flavour of the original stores while being more enticing, appealing and easy to use.

‘The secret to capturing the spirit of a once-successful store such as Debenhams is also a great final delivery experience. Usually, the only human contact an online shopper has with a brand is when the parcel is delivered to the door. Retailers should recognise that poor delivery experiences could lose potential long-term customers. They would be well-advised to invest time and money ensuring that deliveries are prompt and made by uniformed drivers of spick-and-span vans. Saving pennies on deliveries could end up costing them pounds in lost revenues and lead to the final disappearance of many famous brands.’

David Jinks will be discussing Delivering Customer Satisfaction During Lockdown as a key speaker at Post & Parcel Live at 3pm on Thursday, 28 January. David will also be appearing in a Q&A session at the free online event, chaired by the John Lewis Partnership’s Customer Experience Director, Peter Cross.

ParcelHero’s in-depth report 2030: Death of the High Street has been discussed in Parliament. It reveals that, unless retailers develop an omnichannel approach that embraces both online and physical store sales, the High Street as we know it will reach a dead-end by 2030.

Reward Finance Group expands team as business continues to grow

Reward Finance Group has appointed experienced funder, Simon Micklethwaite, as business development director for Yorkshire and the North East region.

He joins the alternative finance provider with over two decades experience within the sector. Initially he spent more than 18 years in commercial banking with HSBC, prior to joining property lender, Roma Finance.

Over the years he has developed an extensive network of finance brokers and introducers nationwide, which will be invaluable to Reward as it continues to grow its presence across the UK.

Welcoming Simon to the team, Reward’s managing director for Yorkshire and the North East, Gemma Wright, said, “We are delighted that Simon is joining our ever-growing team. He joins us at the perfect time as the ‘green shoots’ are well and truly showing here at Reward as we return to the fast pace we all enjoy.

“With his in-depth knowledge of the market, and his contacts within the industry, he is able to hit the ground running, which is essential, as the number of deals we are being introduced to and completing are now on a par with those prior to lockdown.”

Speaking about his new role, Simon said, “I’d heard great things about Reward from both introducers and other asset-based lenders, not only about the individuals within the company but also about the way they do business.

“When your role is business development you need to work with a company that wants to do deals. Reward has a great reputation for doing just that, as it is has the flexibility to be able to create different funding solutions dependant on the client’s needs.

“In addition, the decision-making process is straight forward, enabling decisions to be made quickly. I am therefore looking forward to working closely with the team to help SMEs across the region and the UK to regroup and grow during these difficult times.”

New Rizikon Assurance 2.0 empowers companies to take control of third-party risk

Crossword Cybersecurity plc (AIM: CCS), has today announced the availability of Rizikon Assurance 2.0, an online solution to the problem of third-party risk. The new version allows organisations to visualise all risks for each third-party through fully customisable 360-degree supplier scorecards. The new Third-party Assurance Framework Dashboard – an industry first – gives Supplier Management teams, Chief Risk Officers and senior executives a complete understanding of third-party risks across their supply chain, helping identify problem areas and prioritise remedial action.

Every day there is a new report of a third-party (often a supplier) causing financial, reputational or regulatory harm to a company – this could be a data breach, an issue with child labour, a missed delivery date, or a safety problem. Rizikon Assurance helps companies address the pressure from Regulators, Auditors, Compliance professionals and customers to improve third-party assurance & risk management. It supports the Rizikon Supplier Assurance Framework, an optional, technology independent, methodology for organising, managing and measuring third-party risks.

Rizikon Assurance helps organisations take control of third-party risk with secure online assessments in their own branded portal, automated assessment scoring and workflows. Both standard and customised assessments are securely sent to third parties, once submitted online they are automatically scored, and can be manually rescored by ‘Assessors’, who can flag answers and return them for more detail or improved responses. Procurement and Supplier managers and executives can then instantly use data to understand the risks associated with that supplier, a specific risk area, or across the whole business.

Creditsafe integration

Rizikon Assurance 2.0 is now fully integrated with data sources from Companies House and credit ratings via Creditsafe. This means that Suppliers can be verified against Registered information, and limits financial exposure by giving finance and procurement teams instant access to the financial risk data for all Suppliers in the Creditsafe database of over 320 million companies. Credit risk can now be viewed alongside all other areas of Supplier risk (Cyber, GDPR, Continuity, etc.) on a single scorecard.

360 degree risk visibility for each third-party

New Rizikon Assurance Scorecards allow customers to see all risks for each third-party with combined risk information from the Assessments they have completed on multiple topics, as well as data from Companies House and credit-scoring from Creditsafe. Scorecards give an at-a-glance 360-degree view of third-party risk in a context defined by the customer, as each scorecard segment and weighted risk calculation is customisable.

Understand third-party risks and where they are concentrated

The industry-first Assurance Framework Dashboard gives executives and risk professionals a top-level view of all Risk across all third parties, organised by ‘Impact levels’. It allows them to very quickly focus on high ‘criticality’ third parties needing the most attention and drill-down into those risks. The dashboard also highlights where assurance information gaps exist, which may leave a company exposed.

Rizikon Assurance comes with a growing library of standard assessments that organisations can use to support third-party assurance covering areas including Cyber Security, Modern Slavery, Anti Bribery & Corruption, GDPR and Minimum Wage legislation. These can be combined with customised assessments based on a customer’s own tried and tested question sets.

Delivered as a SaaS platform, the installation and hosting, maintenance, support and security of Rizikon Assurance is taken care of by the Crossword Cybersecurity team, reducing both risk and total cost of ownership. Security features include two-factor authentication and 256-bit end-to-end encryption. All data is hosted in the UK across multiple data centres.

Jake Holloway, Director responsible for Rizikon Assurance, commented: “Despite third-party risks being one of the top enterprise risks for any large company or organisation, third-party risk assurance is often under resourced and simply not visible at board level in the same way as other areas, such as global trade policy or cyber security. The Rizikon Supplier Assurance Framework and Rizikon Assurance 2.0 give companies a methodology and software platform that improves third-party assurance and risk management through efficiency, automation and better visibility of risk areas and individual suppliers. Finally, boardrooms can answer the question ‘How much third-party risk do we have and exactly where is it?’”