Business News

Confidence up, amazing resilience, exports holding and signs of recovery in the jobs market. Doesn’t sound like a region slowly coming out of the lockdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. But this is the picture from a variety of sources and on these two pages we look at some of the reports that are giving everyone optimism.

Exporting levels rising, says economic report

By John Lamb Confidence rising: Amanda Dorel

Confidence at two-year high

Business confidence in the West Midlands rose four points during April to 31 per cent, the region’s highest reading since January 2019, according to the latest Business Barometer from Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking. The Lloyds Bank Business

Barometer questions 1,200 businesses monthly and provides early signals about UK economic trends both regionally and nationwide. In April, companies in the

West Midlands reported higher confidence in their own business prospects month-on- month, up seven points at 31 per cent. Taken alongside their optimism in the economy, which is down two points from 30 per cent, their headline confidence reading sits at 31 per cent. Amanda Dorel, regional

director for the West Midlands at Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said: “It’s promising to see confidence among businesses in the West Midlands continue to rise after a significant increase last month. The easing of some restrictions in April will, no doubt, have been a boost to many. With the further loosening of restrictions on the horizon, it’s likely that confidence will continue to rise, but we know that businesses will face challenges as they continue to adapt and get back to business as usual. “We’ll be by the side of the

region’s business community as firms build back better and set their sights on growth.”


Export levels in the West Midlands grew slightly in the first quarter of this year despite ongoing disruption caused by the pandemic and the new requirements for trading with the EU, a Chambers of Commerce economic report has revealed. Twenty per cent of businesses surveyed reported an

increase in international sales compared to 17 percent the previous quarter. However, at a time when UK firms were getting to grips with the new EU trading arrangements, the percentage of businesses expecting their international output to increase over the next three months fell from 19 percent to 17 percent. This is particularly evident in the manufacturing

sector with 33 per cent of firms surveyed expecting their export orders to fall over the next three months compared to 23 per cent the previous quarter. On the other hand, the percentage of service firms expecting to see an increase in international sales increased from 11 per cent to 13 per cent this quarter. In terms of UK sales, there was only a slight

improvement overall in the number of firms reporting an increase at 32 per cent compared to 31 per cent in the previous quarter. This is the highest figure recorded since the start of the pandemic and contrasts starkly with the 11 per cent recorded during the first national lockdown (Q2) last year.

‘The first quarter of 2021 represented one of the most difficult periods for British exporters in recent history’

However, there is again a discrepancy between

manufacturing and services sector firms with the number of manufacturers reporting an increase in domestic sales falling from 45 per cent in Q4 2020 to 30 per cent in Q1 2021. The percentage of service sector firms reporting an increase in UK sales rose slightly to 32 per cent from 28 per cent the previous quarter. Business confidence has improved significantly with

62 per cent of firms expecting to experience an increase in turnover and 54 per cent of businesses reporting that their profitability was likely to increase over the course of the next three months. This is an increase of 19 per cent and 15 per cent respectively when compared to the previous quarter. The survey, which covers the West Midlands

Combined Authority area, is the most comprehensive regular report of its kind in the region. The data is collected from quarterly surveys conducted by Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce (GBCC), Black Country Chamber of Commerce (BCCC) and Coventry & Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce (C&WCC). Henrietta Brealey, chief executive of the GBCC, said:

“The first quarter of 2021 represented one of the most difficult periods for British exporters in recent history with firms having to get to grips with the new rules and

Increase in funding needed: Henrietta Brealey

regulations following the UK’s departure from the EU. Brexit has resulted in more red tape for businesses with many firms experiencing shortages and delays during the past three months which has pushed up the cost of exporting to the EU. “Despite this upheaval, it is encouraging to see that

the number of companies overall reporting an increase in exports rose from 17 per cent in Q4 2020 to 20 per cent in Q1 2021. However, the outlook for manufacturers’ in particular remains challenging with the number of firms expecting their export orders to increase over the next three months falling by 10 points compared to the previous quarter. “While some short-term disruption is to be expected,

it is clear that some of the issues facing businesses cannot be attributed to just teething problems and will have a permanent impact on trade. While the £20m SME Brexit support fund is a start, we would call upon the Government to increase the amount of funding available under the scheme and take a more long-term approach to supporting businesses. “To help businesses adapt to the new requirements

for trading with the EU, the GBCC, in partnership with the West Midlands Combined Authority, is running a series of free webinars and offering fully funded places on various international trade courses over the next four months. Our documentation team are also on hand to help firms with any customs and export documentation queries.”

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