The government has conceded that a skills gap is the biggest threat to British business, after an Accountancy Age survey revealed that finance staff fear it could stifle growth this year.
More than one in three (36%) believe a skills shortage is the biggest barrier to business performance, according to a survey of more than 650 readers in the latest Accountancy Age/Allied Irish Bank Regional Business health Survey. The figure represents a 10% rise on the previous year.
A spokesman for the department for education and skills admitted the shortage of skills was among the biggest challenges facing business due to ‘generations of neglect’.
Insisting that the gap is ‘already closing’, he admitted that parts of the battle plan, such as the government’s literacy and numeracy strategy in primary schools, would take years to produce results.
The survey findings came as Digby Jones, director general of the CBI, warned that thousands of Britons were now ‘unemployable’ because the UK is failing to equip its citizens with the skills needed to face globalisation.
Describing the situation as a ‘scandal’, he added: ‘My fear is that many who cannot read, write or add up properly will become unemployable ð and the problem is only going to worsen.’
Concern over the skills gap is most acute in the southwest, where a massive 42% listed it as the biggest threat. But there is evidence that the problem is predominantly an English one, with only 21% of Welsh and Scottish respondents citing it as their main concern. There the biggest problem, identified by 28% of respondents, was lack of business investment.
Other major bars to business performance identified across all regions included transport and distribution, and lack of government support, both listed by 16% of respondents as their principal concern. Another 15% cited lack of business investment.
On a positive note, fears of a local recession receded markedly, down as the top worry for 15% of respondents last year to just 3%.