Pandemic rattles North West business confidence again

The confidence and resilience of North West businesses that held up well during the roller-coaster journey through 2021 is facing another dip over the impact of Covid this winter.

Grant Thornton UK LLP’s Business Outlook Tracker surveyed c.600 mid-market businesses every other month during a year that began in full lockdown and was followed by a gradual exit from restrictions up to ‘Freedom Day’ in July.

Optimism in the North West about the country’s economic prospects averaged 67% over the year, below the national average of 72%. The biggest dent in confidence was recorded in the final survey, conducted in late November and early December, with some 19% of businesses in the region describing themselves as ‘pessimistic’ about the future of UK economy.

The views were gathered during the initial outbreak of the Omicron variant, just prior to the announcement of the Government’s Plan B measures. Previously, September’s panic buying and resulting fuel shortages registered the most marked setback in regional confidence, with 14% of businesses in the region ‘pessimistic’ when asked about the UK economic outlook.

Nationally, confidence around revenue growth within businesses peaked in the summer, with 83% expressing optimism, the figure plunging minus 17 percentage points to 66% by December. The North West ended the year below the national average for the same metric, 52%.

Carl Williams, managing partner of Grant Thornton in the North West, said: “Given the peaks and troughs of 2021, businesses in our region have continued to demonstrate resilience and kept the focus on making the best of the circumstances. Restrictions, shortages and price inflation in skills and materials have arrived at a time when everyone has been trying to sharpen the focus on decarbonising the economy. Nobody wanted to end the year like this, with sectors such as hospitality and commercial real estate taking another battering, but the massively upgraded booster vaccination programme is up and running. We’ve got on top the crisis before, and we can do so again.”