The British Chambers of Commerce’s latest Quarterly Economic Survey (QES), published today, confirms that a tough year lies ahead.
While Cornwall data is a little more optimistic than other parts of the country, confidence has slipped over the past 12 months.
The Q4 survey, comprising nearly 8,000 responses across the UK, shows declines in most indicators across both manufacturing and services in the last quarter. While measures for the previous three months indicate minimal growth, expectations for the coming three months have significantly weakened.
The results do not indicate a recession, and are still better than those seen in the worst phase of the last downturn. However, they are a cause for concern, and show that the improvements in 2010 and early 2011 have largely been cancelled out.
“Actions must begin to match rhetoric”
In Cornwall, 67% of respondents reported that UK sales have remained the same or increased in Q4 2011. However, this is down from 76% a year earlier.
Businesses in the Duchy continue to invest in employees, with 77% intending to maintain or increase investment in training (up from 73% in the same period a year ago). 83% have maintained or increased the size of their workforce (again, up on the same period a year ago).
However, indicators suggest that most are maintaining the size of their workforce, rather than creating new jobs.
The number of businesses in Cornwall expecting to maintain or grow profitability over the next 12 months fell significantly compared to the same period last year, despite a similar number expecting to maintain or grow turnover.
Commenting on the figures, Cornwall Chamber’s newly-elected president, Sapience HR managing director Sue Hook, said: “Whilst not entirely doom and gloom, these figures demonstrate how hard it is to drive and maintain a small business these days.
“Our members are working really hard to move forward. The figures on investment in employees show that for many running a small business, profit margins are not the only concern. This is also reflected in unemployment figures compared with elsewhere in the UK.
“However, without profit a business cannot continue – we are not employment charities.
“In Cornwall we hear a lot of talk about ‘encouraging small businesses’ and make enormous investments in ‘business support’. Yet at the same time we add to business rates, National Insurance and even car parking charges. All of these things have a detrimental effect on the viability and potential growth of the private sector in Cornwall. Actions must begin to match rhetoric.”