East Anglia businesses back government lockdown easing

The shop floor at Spectra's plastic bottle making factory at Halesworth

About two thirds of east businesses agree with the government over the pace of lockdown easing, a survey suggests - Credit: Spectra Packaging

The majority of East of England businesses are behind the government when it comes to the pace at which lockdown restrictions are being eased, a survey suggests.

More than two thirds of the region’s firms (68%) backs prime minister Boris Johnson’s ‘easy does it’ approach and feels government should act neither faster nor more slowly, according to a study by Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking.

It polled 101 businesses in the east between March 1 and 15 of this year and found that 66% felt they could operate at close to full capacity (80% or more) once restrictions are lifted.

However, a sizeable minority — a net balance of 23% — favoured a faster route out of lockdown while 9% preferred a slower easing of restrictions.

Other data gathered by the bank suggest that firms in the region are becoming more upbeat — while a separate study by KPMG suggests the jobs market is loosening up. 

Lloyds Bank’s Business Barometer shows UK business confidence reaching a one-year high during March, with a quarter (25%) of firms saying they were planning to create new jobs in the 12 months ahead.

After a rocky year, East of England business confidence recorded in the monthly study hit net positive territory for the first time since March 2020, growing by 20% to arrive at a net balance of 12%. The survey takes positive and negative results and weighs them in the balance.

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Dave Atkinson, regional director for the East of England at Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said: “This data shows the positive impact that the roadmap out of lockdown — and the clarity it provides —  has had on local businesses. 

“It’s fantastic to see many firms are putting plans in place to re-open at full capacity when lockdown eases. 

“The next few months will be critical to the region’s recovery and we remain by the side of businesses, ensuring they have the support they need to seize all opportunities as trading resumes.”

A separate study by Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) and accountancy giant KPMG suggests recruiters are placing more people in work as businesses start returning to normal as lockdown eases.

Permanent placements in recent weeks have shown the biggest increase for almost six years, it found.

The study — which focused on 400 recruitment and employment consultancies — also showed a big increase in temporary jobs as well as a rise in pay rates on offer.

The number of vacancies also increased, while pay rates on offer for permanent and temporary jobs increased for the first time in three months, said the report.

Claire Warnes of KPMG, said: “The UK job market is starting to rebound off the back of the government’s plan to ease national lockdown measures over the coming months, with the highest rise in permanent placements in six years and a sharp increase in temporary billings.

“This is good news for businesses, jobseekers and the UK economy, but employers are still identifying a big skills gap across sectors including IT, construction and retail, with demand and supply not matching up.”