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Survey reveals sharp fall in business confidence

Shropshire Chamber of Commerce’s latest quarterly survey reveals a sharp fall in business confidence as many companies focus their efforts on simply surviving the economic downturn.

Ruth Ross, deputy chief executive of Shropshire Chamber Business, said confidence levels showed a ‘stark downward shift’ in the third quarter of this year – hitting their lowest level since the survey’s records began in 2009.

Recruitment problems also continue to hamper progress, with more than three quarters of firms seeking to expand saying they are unable to find appropriate staff. More than 70% of businesses are now working below capacity, the survey reveals, while nearly a third say problems with bad debts are increasing.

Alex Brown, Shropshire Chamber’s policy and projects officer, said: “The results show that this is a very tough and uncertain time for many of our businesses.

“Before Covid, competition was traditionally cited as the biggest worry. During the height of the pandemic this switched to become a fear of taxation – but now concerns over rising inflation is head and shoulders above all other fears.”

The survey, which was carried out shortly before the Government’s controversial mini budget, also highlighted other key ‘fear factors’ as unfriendly exchange rates for international traders, and ongoing interest rate rises.

Alex said: “Those seeing improved confidence in turnover dropped back to 33%, down from 54% in the second quarter and 61% at the start of the year. Confidence always rides high above reality, so this is a stark downward shift.”

More than three quarters of Shropshire companies trying to recruit over the three-month period said they had experienced difficulties, according to the survey.

One business from the manufacturing sector commented: “Applicants are much more likely to work for a specific period and move on.” Another from the retail sector added: “Overall, availability of candidates is poor. Younger applicants do not want to learn, and older candidates are looking for less responsible positions.”

Companies reported a steady stream of candidates who failed to turn up for interviews, and others who said they liked the work, but not the working hours. Just over a quarter of companies said they were looking to invest more money in plant and machinery. The Chamber says this may be driven by a need to counteract the ongoing skills shortage by increasing automation.

The number of Shropshire businesses looking to invest in training rose slightly in comparison with the second quarter, with several firms pointing to the need to ‘multi-skill’ more staff to adapt to changing times.

The survey also found that fewer than a quarter of county businesses increased domestic sales in the third quarter of this year, down from 41% in the previous three months. Export sales increases also fell for the fourth successive quarter.

Shropshire Chamber’s quarterly economic survey results are fed directly into the British Chambers of Commerce’s national database, which is the largest and most respected survey of its type in the UK.

Ruth Ross said: “It’s really important for us that as many businesses as possible take time to fill in this survey. It is completely anonymous – so that you can speak freely – and takes only a few minutes. Every single business voice matters. The greater the voice, the greater the influence we can have to support the businesses of Shropshire.”

Pictured: Ruth Ross