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Suffolk Chamber survey shows county’s firms optimistic over prospects for sales and profits

PUBLISHED: 12:35 17 July 2017 | UPDATED: 12:35 17 July 2017

John Dugmore of Suffolk Chamber of Commerce.
Photo: David Garrad

John Dugmore of Suffolk Chamber of Commerce. Photo: David Garrad

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Suffolk businesses have reported positive trends in sales and orders at the mid-point of 2917, including a surge in exports for the county’s manufacturers.

The figures, which feed into the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) Quarterly Economic Survey (QES), also indicate a further increase in employment, although many firms also reported difficulty in finding suitable candidates to fill vacancies.

The number of firms in the county reporting an increase rather than an decrease in key measures was in positive territory across the board, with a balance of 17% for domestic sales, 10% for domestic orders, 15% for overseas sales and 14% for overseas orders.

Firms in the services sector performed strongest in domestic markets, with growth in sales and orders of 19% and 10% respectively, compared with 12% and 7% for manufacturing.

However, manufacturers drove the growth in exports, with balances of 27% and 24% respectively for sales and orders, against 8% in each case for the services sector.

A balance of 12% of firms reported an increase in the labour force during the second quarter of the year while 28% expect an increase during the third quarter, with manufacturing performing more strongly than services.

However, 61% of firms overall reported some difficulty in recruiting staff during the second quarter, including 56% of services companies and 81% of manufacturers.

Balances were also positive for cashflow during the second quarter (7%) and investment plans for the third quarter, (11% for plant and 10% for training). However, the balance for training is below the East of England average of 15%, with the increase in Suffolk coming entirely from the services sector.

Looking further ahead, a balance of 39% of firms in Suffolk expect their turnover to increase over the next 12 months and a balance of 24% expect profitability to improve.

John Dugmore, chief executive at Suffolk of Chamber of Commerce, said: “The figures show a local economy that is doing well across the board – a reflection of the strong leadership and wise planning of our members and the broader Suffolk economy. The Suffolk business story is one of ambition, resilience and success.

“However, we are concerned that this momentum could falter both if firms cannot recruit the right staff to fill vacancies and if they see their margins eroded by increasing levels of taxation and inflation.

“We will redouble our efforts in encouraging schools, colleges and others in the education sector to ensure that businesses have access to the right aptitudes and skills, whilst urging firms not to turn the taps off in terms of mentoring and training of their existing staff.”

Mr Dugmore, who thanked the Suffolk participants for taking time to complete the survey, added: “We are also pressing Government, through the BCC, to take the pressure off businesses of an over-heavy taxation regime, skewed towards saddling firms with up-front costs.”

A total of 228 Suffolk Chamber members took part in the survey, the largest response for some years. Analysis of the results was provided by Suffolk Knowledge, part of Suffolk County Council.

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