2014 ended on ‘a whimper’ for West firms as business confidence evaporated, survey reveals

January 13, 2015

Confidence among West of England businesses petered out at the end of 2014 and has started the new year lower than at any time over the previous 12 months, new research shows.

Domestic sales, cashflow and recruitment expectations all fell during the fourth quarter, according to results of the latest business survey by Business West, the region’s largest business organisation.

The data take the shine off an otherwise positive year for the region’s economy during which it pulled itself out of recession, increased overseas sales and experienced a rapid drop in unemployment.

Business West, which runs Bristol Chamber of Commerce and the Bristol Initiative, described the survey results as disappointing and said they proved that there was still work needed to secure sustainable growth.

It also urged politicians not to forget the importance of business to the economy in the run up to May’s General Election.

Business West’s local business survey was completed by almost 600 businesses in November and December in the Bristol, the West of England, Gloucestershire, Swindon and Wiltshire.

The main points show:

  • Domestic sales decreased by one point to 49%
  • Export sales remained constant at 37%
  • Recruitment over the past three months increased by two points to 31%
  • Expectation to take on staff in the next three months dropped two points to 29%
  • Cashflow decreased three points to 37%
  • Business confidence decreased four points to 65%

Business West managing director Phil Smith, pictured, said: “Last year had the hallmarks of an historic year in which the UK finally pulled out a crippling recession.

“However, these results show that our local economy closed out on a whimper in contrast to the national picture which saw business bounce back to close out the year.

“The booming business confidence we saw in our region during the first two quarters of the year was muted in the third quarter by a disruptive Scottish independence referendum and over the past three months we have seen confidence decrease again; back below this time last year.”

Whilst this was not the great news the region had hoped for, it was not necessarily bad news either, he said, and there are some positive messages to be taken.

“In December we saw unemployment in the South West fall again and remain well below the national average. We also saw upbeat news in international markets, with export orders up in Q4 and both export orders and sales up on this time last year. This bodes well for our #GetExporting campaign aiming to get 2,020 more local businesses exporting by 2020.”

The year-end results were a “wake-up call” for business to lobby politicians at a crucial political time, he added.

Business West will shortly release its ‘business manifesto’ which it hopes will ensure that the voice of business features “in every prospectus and in the words of every campaigning candidate”.

Mr Smith added: “A year with so much promise ended somewhat disappointingly, with decreases in domestic sales, recruitment intentions and confidence. With the May election looming  we must remind politicians that as the punches start to fly between parties on important issues such as the NHS and immigration, business issues should not fall by the wayside.

After all, in the famous words of Bill Clinton: ‘it’s the economy, stupid.’”

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