West Midlands firms are among ‘worst hit in the UK’ after seeing sharp fall in new business as a result of COVID-19

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Businesses in the West Midlands are among the worst hit in the UK after seeing new work, output and job numbers plummet as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The latest Natwest Midlands PMI data showed that businesses across the region saw new orders fall at the quickest pace on record and a ‘severe reduction’ in output in March.

The report outlined that West Midlands was one of the worst-hit in the UK, with only Northern Ireland and Scotland recording quicker falls in new business since February.

The downturn has inevitably led to a cut in workforce across the region, with employment dropping at the quickest pace since June 2009 and that was much faster than the national trend.

Firms meanwhile switched operations to completing work-in-hand, which led to the sharpest reduction in backlogs for almost 11 years.

Weaker demand for inputs contributed to a slower rise in cost burdens in March, with the rate of inflation softening to the weakest since May 2016.

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Businesses were also supported by a fall in oil prices, although some highlighted shortages of items such as meat in the latest survey period.

Output charges meanwhile dropped for the first time in nearly four years, albeit at a marginal rate overall.

Businesses were notably less optimistic regarding future activity in March amid the sharp downturn in output and new business following the outbreak of COVID-19.

The degree of positive sentiment was the lowest since the series began in July 2012.

That said, the region was hopeful of a quick rebound in the economy, and recorded stronger expectations than those seen at the UK level.

John Maude, NatWest Midlands & East Regional Board, said: “The West Midlands saw a dramatic slowdown in business activity in March, mirroring the trend seen across the UK as a whole and most of the global economy as COVID-19 lockdown measures were put in place.

“Both the manufacturing and services sector were affected, as shops were forced to close while production was scaled back to align with a steep fall in new orders.

“Employment numbers were massively curtailed in the West Midlands, with regional data showing that only Scotland registered a larger drop in workforces across the UK.

“Nearly a million people applied for universal credit in the second half of March, so the rise in unemployment in the region is likely to be stark, despite the government’s furloughing scheme.

“NatWest moved quicker than other bank to support our customers with a £5bn Coronavirus Working Capital Fund and we have £3bn of lending that we are getting approved to our customers as quickly as possible.

“We have also approved more than 15,000 Capital Repayment Holidays on fixed and variable rate lending for up to six months and approved over 4,000 overdrafts for our smallest business customers.

John Maude of NatWest Midlands & East Regional Board

“When it comes to CBILS we are doing more than any other bank, our lending starts at £5,000 and we led the way on not taking Personal Guarantees, as this isn’t business as usual. We are doing more than any other bank – with nearly 70 per cent of the volume and more than 50 per cent of value coming from NatWest.

“Demand has also been unprecedented; our call centre volumes have been running around twice normal levels.

“That’s why we doubled the size of our call centre team from 200 to 400 to support our business customers as quickly as we can and to deal with the exceptionally high volumes, while adjusting our business to allow people to work from home.

“Again, at the larger end, we have done more than any other bank to support those companies that play a key role in the economy and employ such large numbers with NatWest having facilitated more than £1bn of drawdowns more than 50 per cent of all Bank of England issuance.”

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