Business confidence rises, but fears over future lockdowns remain

Businesses are increasingly confident in their ability to grow and recover, although many still have fears about the ongoing impact of Covid restrictions.

  • Growth: 63% of firms surveyed confident in their growth prospects over next 12 months
  • Restarting: 53% already operating at pre-pandemic capacity; 80% expect to be by October
  • Barriers: 38% cited further lockdowns as a barrier to re-opening, while 37% cited ongoing social distancing measures
  • Finance: 44% believe access to finance will help overcome the remaining barriers to fully restarting operations

The Chamber’s survey of more than 1,000 companies, almost all SMEs, reveals the majority (63%) are emerging from lockdown with either concrete plans or intentions to grow their business over the next 12 months. The manufacturing sector (68%) is particularly optimistic, while nearly six-in-ten (58%) of the hardest hit business-to-consumer firms such as retail, hospitality and catering still anticipate some growth.

Although the economy is yet to fully reopen, many businesses have demonstrated their resilience and are already carrying out their vital role as engines of economic growth. More than half (53%) said they had already restarted or returned to pre-pandemic levels in April, with a further 27% expecting to reach this milestone by October. By the end of the year, 91% of businesses expect to have fully restarted, with only 1% not expecting to restart for the foreseeable future.

For many, the biggest barriers to reopening are Covid-related, such as the risk of further lockdowns (cited by 38% of respondents) or social distancing requirements (cited by 37%). Concerns around reduced customer demand (33%), inflation pressure (18%) and recruitment difficulties (14%) are also weighing on UK businesses.

Commenting on the findings Andrew Denniff, Chief Executive of Barnsley & Rotherham Chamber of Commerce, said:

 “The ability of businesses to bounce back is a huge testament to their resilience. Although, the financial support put in place by the government to help many through the last 12 months has been crucial.

“However, we must now clarify the future of safety measures, such as social distancing, and set out a clear package of support that would be available should further restrictions be imposed on businesses this year, or indeed beyond that.

“Our members will feel more confident and will be more willing to invest in jobs and in developing their business, if government can give assurances that a safety net of financial support will be provided should there be a need for restrictions which reduce or stop activity in order to protect public health.

“Whilst there is cautious optimism growing among firms that as the economy now gradually unlocks, they will be able to push on and return to growth, many still feel uncertain about what the future holds.”

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