“It’s as if Suffolk’s businesses are holding their breath, waiting for what happens next”

There is uncertainty about the breadth and depth about the pace of Suffolk’s immediate economic recovery as revealed in the latest figures from Suffolk Chamber of Commerce’s Quarterly Economic Survey (QES) – although optimism remains for a more prosperous future in the longer-term.

Covering the second three months of 2021, this QES shows only the most marginal improvements and declines across all of the indicators being measured. This is in contrast to the figures for the east of England as a whole, where there has been a more robust upwards trend, although this has only resulted in the Suffolk and regional figures aligning more closely than in the recent past.

Significantly, virtually across the board the Suffolk criteria measured by the survey remains both in negative territory (more firms reporting declines than reporting improvements) and noticeably below the levels from the same quarter in 2020, suggesting that a sustained economic recovery is still many months away.

12 out of the 15 measures for manufacturing companies recorded falls, including a number of key indicators of current activity: cashflow, confidence in improving turnover, confidence in improving productivity and domestic sales and orders. The remaining three criteria were unchanged from the first quarter.

For the second quarter running, services in the county fared slightly better, with three of the 15 measures showing small improvements (including confidence in improving productivity and domestic sales), seven unchanged and five fractionally worse.

In response, Suffolk Chamber is upping its push for a longer-term Government programme of strategic business support to boost investment in key sectors, including net-zero and in better aligning the skills needs of businesses with their supply. In particular, the Chamber is looking for more detail to be included in this autumn’s Comprehensive Spending Review.

Paul Simon, Suffolk Chamber’s head of policy & communications, said: “The fact that our survey’s quarter-on-quarter figures have barely changed compared to surrounding counties, should not be seen as a statistical one-off.

“This business hesitancy is also revealed in the very many conversations we’ve been having with our members in recent weeks. Whether it be concerns about their supply chains – not least for key raw materials, a noticeable uptick in asset prices and the ongoing struggle to recruit appropriately skilled staff, Suffolk businesses seem to be  holding their breath, waiting for what happens next.”

“It is probably no surprise that the economic scarring from Covid19 may mean that the recovery is dramatically uneven across different sectors, locations and cohorts of people. That is why Suffolk Chamber will continue to press our MPs and the Government for a longer-term economic recovery and renewal plan covering the remainder of this Parliament.”

“Obviously, there is good news coming up in terms of the end of most COVID19-related restrictions on 19 July, but for many sectors, there are these supply and inflationary pressures which, if not addressed sooner rather than later, could become a significant obstacle to the county’s bold plans to renew how it does business over the longer-term.”

Suffolk Chamber is grateful to Suffolk Knowledge, part of Suffolk County Council, for providing the analysis of this QES.

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