East of England business optimism grows — but lags behind other regions

A worker amid the barrels at Greene King's brewery in Bury St Edmunds

East of England businesses are more upbeat - but their optimism hasn't kept pace with other regions. Pictured is a Greene King worker - Credit: Adam Smyth

Business confidence in the East of England has surged to its highest level since February 2020 as the region starts to return to some form of normality following three national lockdowns, figures suggest.

But the region’s firms are less upbeat than other parts of the country — with optimism about their own prospects nine points behind the national figure.

Overall confidence in the region rose 12 points to 24%, according to Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking’s latest Business Barometer. However, that is still behind the national average which rose 14 points to stand at 29%.

The survey polls 1,200 firms including 99 in the East. The barometer weighs negative answers against positive ones to come up with a “balance” which is weighted to reflect how the economy is made up.

Companies in the East were slightly more confident month-on-month about their own prospects with a rise of one percentage point to 17%. However, they were more much optimistic about the economy in general with a surge of 23 points to 31%. Overall, this gave a headline confidence reading of 24% for the region. 

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Across the UK, firms’ confidence in their own business prospects rose by 14 points to 26%, and their optimism in the economy increased by 15 points to 32%. 

Businesses in the East were also more optimistic on about taking on more workers, with a net balance of 5% of businesses in the region expecting to increase staff levels over the next year. 

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Most UK regions and nations showed a month-on-month increase in confidence during April, with the largest surges in the South West (up 22 points to 30%), London (up 20 points to 32%), the East Midlands (up 20 points to 40%) and Yorkshire and the Humber (up 20 points to 32%). No nation or region reported a drop in confidence or registered a net-negative confidence reading for the first time since July 2019.

Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking regional boss Dave Atkinson said: “It’s encouraging to see confidence increase in the East of England for the third consecutive month, boosted by the easing of lockdown restrictions and reopening of non-essential businesses.  

“The region’s hospitality sector, in particular, will be enjoying its first taste of a well-earned return to normality and there’s hope we’ll see this trend continue as indoor gatherings resume in May.”  

Confidence rose across all sectors, with manufacturing and retail confidence levels at three-year highs, the surve found. Manufacturing was the most positive sector (40%) and retail confidence jumped to 39%. Construction confidence rose to 28% and services confidence rose to 25% — the highest it has been since 2018. 

Hann-Ju Ho, senior economist for Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said: “A third consecutive monthly rise in business confidence alongside the highest level of confidence for two-and-a-half years tells us a positive story about the UK’s continued economic recovery and leaves us optimistic about the road ahead.”  

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