Shortages of skilled workers such as plumbers and builders are getting worse in the UK, threatening "serious commercial damage" to businesses, a new survey claims.
According to a survey of more than a thousand businesses by Yell, the company which publishes Yellow Pages, more than eight out of 10 small businesses say there is a shortage of skilled trades people, and more than six out of 10 think the problem has worsened over the past two years.
Firms in southern England were suffering the worst problems, followed by Yorkshire and Scotland. One in 20 businesses said delays had caused a measurable loss, whether in business efficiency, working hours or revenue.
Some firms have lost revenue because of delays in hiring craftsmen such as builders and plumbers. The situation is growing so bad that many of the respondents to the survey said they would be forced to carry out their own repairs if the problem continued. Two-thirds of those encountering a delay said they would carry out their own carpentry, and more than half said they would tackle decorating.
Almost one in five of those questioned said they had suffered unacceptable delays in trying to hire a tradesman and most of those surveyed said they did not believe the government was doing enough to tackle the problem.
The news has led to criticism of the government's target to put half of young people into higher education, which some business leaders argue is creating a surplus of graduates and a corresponding shortage of people with practical and vocational skills.
The governmentís own figures show that only about 6 per cent of employers have had any involvement with modern apprenticeships schemes that were supposed to tackle such shortages.
John Condron, chief executive of Yell, which publishes Yellow Pages said: "The findings clearly indicate that small businesses - the entrepreneurial backbone of the country - are increasingly affected by shortages in the trade skills area. This is a serious trend and one which could have a major impact on the economy if it continues."