UK must be better prepared for future economic shocks, union warns

Experts say there is ‘no guarantee’ employers would receive the same government support during any subsequent crises

UK must be better prepared for future economic shocks, union warns

Thousands of UK jobs could be a risk to technology, offshoring and climate change, the head of a trade union has warned, saying that coronavirus will not be a “one off” shock to the economy.

Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, will tell the union’s annual conference today that “the UK must be better prepared for crises in the future. New tech offers new opportunities but also poses old threats to jobs."

She will add that the economic fallout from Covid is not going to be a “one off”, the BBC reported, and that issues such as climate change were already having an impact. “The longer we put off getting to net zero, the more disruptive it will be,” she is expected to say.

This statement will come after the TUC yesterday (12 September) released research which estimated that between 368,000 and 667,000 jobs could be offshored from Britain if industries failed to meet climate targets and the UK fell behind other countries on climate action.

The report gave a narrow estimate that 33,700 jobs in the iron and steel industry could be directly affected if the UK falls behind on climate action. Meanwhile, this would also directly affect 25,200 jobs in glass and ceramics industries and 20,500 jobs in the chemicals industry. 

The TUC also ranked the different regions of the UK according to how many jobs will directly be at risk if climate action is not addressed and found Yorkshire and the Humber would see the highest risk (23,300 jobs), followed by the West Midland (19,600) and the North West (18,400).

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Gudrun Cartwright, environment director at Business in the Community, responded to the research by saying it was “imperative” that businesses worked to tackle climate and nature crises to ensure that they and the communities they serve can be more resilient to future shocks than to Covid.

She explained that the last two years have seen “unprecedented upheaval” from climate breakdown and, until there has been a transformation in the way people live and work, the climate crisis will become ever more severe.

Cartwright warned “those least able to cope will suffer the worst impacts – from small businesses to vulnerable communities,” adding “the time to act is now, and we know that business can be part of the solution”.

However, Jon Boys, labour market economist at the CIPD, advised that there were limits to how prepared a business can be for a shock as “most businesses were no more able to predict the pandemic than the financial crisis”. 

A strong balance sheet and comprehensive insurance is a start, he advised, adding there was “no guarantee that the next crisis will be accompanied by the same generous state support such as furlough payments and business loans that that businesses benefited from during the pandemic”.

Kate Palmer, HR advice and consultancy director at Peninsula, told People Management that the government and businesses need to start investing now in the future, to enable us to weather future storms.

“Investment in technology and innovation is a smart choice,” she said, but explained it needs to go hand in hand with investment in people too. 

Ensuring the right training and support is in place is going to ensure businesses are agile enough to adapt to new challenges that come, she advised and suggested that keeping up with the pace of change is going to be essential in being prepared for whatever the future may bring.