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New Forest economy has 'bounced back' post lockdown – but fears remain for hospitality industry

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THE New Forest’s economy has bounced back post-lockdown – but there are fears the hospitality sector could flag in the winter months.

The number of people claiming benefits in the district fell in July this year compared to May, a report to New Forest District Council’s corporate affairs and local economy overview and scrutiny panel revealed, dropping by about a third from a peak of 4,435.

The figures were broadly similar to the picture in Hampshire, but much better than the average national unemployment statistics.

New Forest communities still face long-term challenges
New Forest communities still face long-term challenges

The shift was put down to relaxing Covid-19 restrictions, the re-opening of hospitality, and recruitment increases.

Claire Upton-Brown, NFDC executive head of planning, regeneration and economy, said that while it was a positive story, the tide may turn in winter.

“We are conscious that some of the positive news may be in part due to the fact that in our overall economy we are heavily representative, and heavily dependent upon, the hospitality sector,” she said.

“As we all know, that’s seasonal and the figures might not look quite as good in January when the hospitality sector is less buoyant.”

The news comes after a recent report in the A&T revealing hospitality businesses are facing a “perfect storm” as they battle supply chain issues and the loss of European workers from Brexit and the pandemic.

NFDC's Claire Upton-Brown
NFDC's Claire Upton-Brown

Pubs, hotels and restaurants said they were having to cut opening hours and reduce menus to deliver services as they try to fill scores of positions which have been empty for months.

Cllr Michael Harris, NFDC cabinet member for the economy, acknowledged the industry faced a “major headache”, while he also said the lack of affordable housing was forcing younger people to move away from the area, making the situation worse.

Mrs Upton-Brown said the Forest faced long-term challenges, including an ageing working population, under-representation of “high value added sectors” and a high proportion of unskilled residents.

As a result, she said NFDC was keen to maximise the training and opportunities for younger people, and noted that of the peak figures, 834 claimants were in the 16-24 age bracket who are typically employed in the retail, hospitality and leisure industries.

The report suggested the district needed to help that section of the population, outlining steps NFDC is taking such as running a Rebel Business School targeted at start-ups and entrepreneurs.

Also, it will run a youth employment hub which will offer support and advice to youngsters aged 16-24, and is developing a programme of events for young entrepreneurs.

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