CALLS are being made for further government action to protect businesses and jobs following the latest employment figures.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has today revealed that the lockdown has claimed 649,000 since March, including 74,000 jobs cut last month.

The British Chambers of Commerce's Quarterly Recruitment Outlook, in partnership with Totaljobs, reveals:

• 29% of businesses expect to reduce their workforce in the next three months

• 28% decreased size of workforce in Q2 but 66% kept their workforce constant

• The two organisations call for a cut in employer National Insurance Contributions to protect businesses and jobs.

The survey, which serves as a barometer of the UK labour market, received 7,400 responses and is the largest of its kind in the UK.

Fieldwork was done prior to the Chancellor’s Summer Statement which announced the Job Retention Bonus, Kickstart Scheme and an Apprenticeship Recovery programme, among other things.

The results found that 29% of businesses expect to decrease the size of their workforce in the next three months before the government’s Job Retention Scheme ends, the highest on record. Meanwhile, 59% will keep headcount the same and just 12% will look to increase the size of their workforce.

The news comes as businesses across the UK economy announced significant redundancies. The survey found that over the next three months: • 18% of micro firms (with fewer than 10 employees) expect their workforce to decrease.

• 41% of small and medium firms (with 10 to 249 employees) expect their workforce to decrease.

• 41% of large firms (with over 250 employees) expect their workforce to decrease.

The survey reinforced data from the BCC’s Quarterly Economic Survey which showed record falls in key indicators of business activity, including domestic and export sales, cashflow and investment.

The percentage of businesses attempting to recruit in the previous quarter fell to 25%, the lowest level on record. Of the firms that attempted to recruit, 65% faced recruitment difficulties, particularly for skilled manual/technical or managerial roles.

While 28% of respondents decreased their workforce in Q2, two in three firms kept staffing levels constant. As lockdown lifts, Totaljobs have seen a 30% month-on-month increase in the number of jobs advertised on their website for June, with the largest volume posted in IT (20k), logistics (12k) and social care (9k).

There were also month on month increases in sectors benefitting from lockdown easing like retail (+51%), travel (+47%) and hospitality (+23%). Skilled trades also started to see growth compared with previous weeks, with jobs advertised increasing by 57%.

Applications per vacancy were up across all sectors, reflecting continued rises in candidate activity on the Totaljobs site.

The two organisations want government action to limit the damage to the labour market, including reducing the overall cost of employment, through a temporary cut in employer National Insurance Contributions and support to upskill and reskill employees as businesses adapt to change.

Totaljobs CEO Jon Wilson said: “It is clear that business confidence is low, with many being forced to make difficult decisions when it comes to their workforce.

"However, the Chancellor's summer statement outlined a number of measures that will not only support jobs but help create new roles in the economy and give confidence to businesses trying to plan for the future. The interim cuts in stamp duty and VAT should give the hard-hit housing and hospitality sectors a much-needed boost.

"It’s clear that moving forward, adaptability remains paramount for businesses and people, with upskilling, reskilling and utilising transferable skills all key factors during this recovery period.

"To protect jobs and further ease the burden facing businesses, we join the British Chambers of Commerce in their call for a cut in employer National Insurance. We also urge the Chancellor to continue to consider the needs of the sectors and demographics most impacted by Covid-19, to protect people’s livelihoods and help the jobs market and wider economy pick up.”