Picture: J J Ellison
Hounslow has the highest number of furloughed workers in the country, the borough’s chamber of commerce has revealed.
Sally Smith, the body’s chief operational officer, said the borough topped the country alongside Crawley for the use of the furlough scheme, during a Business Taskforce virtual meeting giving support and guidance for local enterprises and employers.
Putting questions to a panel, including to Hounslow Council leader Steve Curran, she said the borough was expecting a “tidal wave” of unemployment when the furlough scheme ends in October.
Cllr Curran said “enormous” amounts of work was being done to protect the borough from the worst effects of coronavirus.
He said he had written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson urging him to introduce ‘air bridges’ to stop the stifling of the tourism industry.
Hounslow’s cabinet members also agreed a recovery plan last week on how to manage an economic, social, environmental and community bounce back in the borough as lockdown eases.
But he added, “It is going to be very difficult for everyone in the coming weeks and months. There’s no point trying to sugar coat this, all the predictions are very grim.”
The warnings come as analysis by Wagestream, an income streaming provider, showed Hounslow had recorded a 308.5 per cent increase in job seekers’ allowance claimants from February to May 2020.
The breakdown from Office of National Statistics figures meant the borough saw the second biggest hike in the country by local authority, after Stroud in Gloucestershire by 332.8 per cent.
Nearby boroughs of Slough and Windsor and Maidenhead also reported increases of 295 per cent, and 303.6 per cent respectively.
Business Taskforce panelist, John Rose from the council’s HR department, urged the borough’s businesses that redundancy “should be the last option”, advising employers to think about what to do with employees differently going forward such as accessing skills improvement schemes.
Discussion at the meeting also recognised the benefits of retaining trained staff to avoid “expensive” recruitment costs and keeping employees on a part-time basis.
Freight forwarder Sound Moves is among the companies with Heathrow as the “lion share” of its business, but its niche market of working with clients such as West End productions going abroad, has “suffered very very badly” during the pandemic.
Director Martin Corr said it is making “full use” of the furlough scheme, as well as having to make “tough decisions” to make people redundant.
In January the employer had 29 staff working full-time, which has now reduced to two while everyone else has been furloughed or let go.
“We had to take a view of it, we knew it was not going to be a quick fix. We had to take some tough financial decisions to preserve cash,” Mr Corr explained.
“We knew early summer was a write off. We won’t see significant volumes returning until this time next year.”
The boss has also dropped all spending on marketing, investing in computer systems and other company developments during the period which he said would be running into reserves to do.
He added: “It is pretty dire, I don’t think we are any different to any other freight company based at Heathrow, there is nothing to ship, plus we have got the problem of limited flights.
“There are issues of actually moving it [freight], there are big penalties if you miss a flight or issues with customers we have paid for space we don’t use. Social distancing has caused problems, and so has the self isolation for 14 days…It just doesn’t work.”
The company will begin rotating furloughed staff who have been out of working for months, to keep them up to speed, and is “committed” to retain them as they have formed professional relationships with customers and are well trained for the job.
And Mr Corr hopes that by September and October the staff will be able to begin quoting and planning for next year’s business.
He added: “The furlough scheme definitely saved some very, very tough decisions. We are very grateful for that but on November 1, we are not going to just turn the tap back on, but we do want to retain our staff we spent a lot of time training.”
Anahita Hossein-Pour - Local Democracy Reporter
June 19, 2020