Skills shortages weigh on services sector

CBI's Katja Hall warned of a skills shortage in some areas
CBI's Katja Hall warned of a skills shortage in some areas
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Optimism among firms in the powerhouse services sector is rising at the fastest pace on record, a survey showed today.

However, the CBI warned that some companies’ growth ambitions could be hampered by a shortage of skilled workers, especially across the legal and accounting arenas.

CBI deputy director-general Katja Hall said: “The recovery continues to strengthen with both consumer and business-facing firms taking on more staff and investing in training and IT.

“But a rising number of firms, particularly in business and professional services, are having problems finding the right staff. This survey identifies a skills gap as a growing constraint on business expansion in the sector over the year ahead.”

The CBI found confidence in the services sector, which accounts for more than two-thirds of economic output, grew at the highest rate since its survey began in November 1998.

Among consumer-facing companies such as bars, hotels and restaurants, a net balance of 34 per cent said headcount during the three months to May was higher than the previous quarter, while 42 per cent of those surveyed reported a rise in business volumes and more than half predicted continued growth during the coming three months.

Hall said: “Looking ahead, consumer-facing firms appear more bullish about their prospects than business and professional services firms, which expect the pace of growth in business volumes and values to moderate.”

The survey came as a separate study from insurer Axa found small firms in Scotland were more upbeat about their growth prospects than their counterparts south of the Border, but fears over rising borrowing costs were affecting confidence, particularly among those in the construction sector.

Outgoing Bank of England deputy governor Charlie Bean said at the weekend that interest rates of about 3 per cent are likely to become the norm within three to five years. The Bank’s base rate has been held at a record low of 0.5 per cent since March 2009.