Suffolk business leaders feel more positive about the future despite the second lockdown – but many are relying on further government support to see them through.
In a recent poll conducted at our Suffolk Limited panel and audience discussion, in partnership with Birketts, 48% of business leaders said they feel more positive about the future now than they did in April, with only 25% feeling less positive.
The discussion, attended by 150 of the region’s business leaders, discovered the pressures facing employers. With the immediate future becoming less predictable and little government guidance, 40% of employers across the region said the pressure to keep people safe, motivated and able to do their jobs, is the concern most likely to keep them awake at night.
The new poll follows on from Grant Thornton’s International Business Report which was conducted in April, during the country’s first COVID-19 nationwide lockdown. In April’s survey, business leaders ranked keeping people safe, motivated and able to do their jobs as their biggest challenge. This was reflected in our Suffolk Limited poll where 51% of business leaders said keeping their employees safe and in jobs is their biggest challenge. A significant number (35%), however, said that keeping up with the changing demands and expectations of customers is their biggest challenge.
C-J Green, Chair, New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership and panellist at the discussion says: “It is no surprise to see that people’s wellbeing is at the centre of the poll results. As we head into the second lockdown and people start to hit an exhaustion wall, the reality is we need to be flexible with how staff are allowed to manage their work-life balance. This can be an exciting step forward for how the business industry works."
Official government figures show that a significant proportion of the UK workforce (16%, 4.8 million people) remained on furlough as of 31 July; notably, there were around 100,000 more women on furlough than men across the UK. The East of England has 212,000 women and 183,200 men on furlough, a 15.7% difference. This is likely a result of the type of industries that are more affected by furlough—for example, the strength of the leisure and tourism industry in Suffolk.
Where Suffolk business needs the most support
The insights from the ONS 'Business Impact of Coronavirus (COVID19) Survey' show that, as a result of lockdown, 3.3% of businesses in the East of England reported having no cash reserves and 34.9% have less than six months’ worth, putting the region in a more favourable position than the UK average of 40.9% (for the period 10 August to 23 August 2020).
Asked where they felt the government could best add their support, 37% of Suffolk business leaders at our webinar identified that maintaining the low tax regime would be most beneficial, with 24% saying an extension to the furlough scheme would help their business the most.
“It has been a stressful period for business leaders and it was encouraging to see that businesses in Suffolk are resilient and feeling more positive about the future,” said Rob Thomson, Tax Director.
“The region’s leaders really identify the importance of investing in people and their ability to do their jobs. We also saw that extra support from the government is vital and many are relying on the low tax regime.”
New opportunities to diversify
Alexandra Nelson, Partner at Birketts, agreed that it was good to see local leaders feeling more positive about the future:
“The results from our business leaders is a real insight into their positive mindsets and priorities. Ensuring our people stay safe, motivated and able to successfully do their jobs remains at the heart of the concerns and challenges raised.
"It is also really encouraging to see that diversity and inclusion remain key to the ongoing success of Suffolk businesses and that, in the midst of all the challenges, our businesses are taking advantage of the opportunities available from the wider, non-geographically limited talent pools enabled by remote working.”
To help build resilience in Suffolk over the long term, we invite local businesses to join our Business Leaders Forum, which has been set up to help leaders connect and share ideas with each other during an informal ‘roundtable’.
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