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Slowdown in growth - survey

Businesses across West Cheshire have seen a slow start to 2018, according to the latest quarterly economic survey – but are still showing signs of optimism.

More than 130 businesses took part in the West Cheshire and North Wales Chamber of Commerce survey, representing more than 6,500 employees.

Firms reported a slight dip in UK sales growth whilst orders fell to the lowest level since the fourth quarter of 2016. Export sales remain unchanged on the quarter but orders fell back to levels seen in the third quarter of 2017.

Lower orders may push down on sales in the next quarter’s results and the slowdown in export activity may reflect a slight easing in global growth, the chamber says.

Despite the challenging climate, business confidence eased slightly with confidence in turnover and profitability returning to similar levels seen during the third quarter of last year.

The number of businesses that tried to recruit staff over the last three months dipped slightly but has remained relatively flat over the last 12 months. However, employment expectations for the next three months have slowed to the lowest levels since the end of 2016.

After the sharp rise in investment in training seen last quarter, levels dipped at the start of 2018 and fell back below the average of the North West.

Concerns around external factors shows a mixed picture for the three-month period, the chamber says.

Inflation and exchange rates concerns both eased perhaps reflecting easing from the pass through of the sharp fall in the exchange rate in 2016 and more information around the Brexit outcome. On the other hand, interest rates, business rates and corporation tax all rose slightly, the first could reflect the more hawkish tone from the Bank of England and other advanced economy central banks.

Colin Brew, chief executive of West Cheshire & North Wakes Chamber of Commerce (pictured), said: “The results for Q1 2018 indicate a slight slowdown in growth, in virtually all areas, for businesses in West Cheshire & North Wales with the only exception being export sales, which remained unchanged from the previous quarter.

“Tighter cashflow has seen a rise in concern and the skills shortages that plague businesses in our region have not gone away with recruitment difficulties remaining high.

“It’s time for the UK government to multitask and demonstrate that it can do more than negotiate Brexit. A far stronger domestic economic agenda is needed to fix the fundamentals needed for business to thrive here at home.

“At a time when firms face stratospheric up-front costs, the apprenticeship system is in crisis, roads are being allowed to crumble, mobile phone and broadband ‘not-spots’ are multiplying, it’s obvious that the key to improved productivity and competitiveness lies in getting the basics right.”

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