Business survey shows exports increase for Northamptonshire firms

Paul Griffiths, chief executive of Northamptonshire Chamber
Paul Griffiths, chief executive of Northamptonshire Chamber

Businesses in Northamptonshire experienced growing exports with confidence levels remaining high in the first three months of 2014, according to the latest Northamptonshire Chamber of Commerce Quarterly Economic Survey (QES).

The findings from the report released today Tuesday, April 8, coincides with Export Week (April 7-11) and contains responses from 125 county firms about their performance, concerns and experiences of trading in Q1 of 2014.

The survey also revealed the county’s manufacturing sector was continuing to reflect strong rises in domestic and overseas sales and that companies were also looking to fulfil more job vacancies in this sector.

Feedback from respondents showed 100 per cent (up from 88 per cent on Q4, 2013) of manufacturers’ export sales remained the same or increased over the last three months, out of this 78 per cent (up from 65 per cent) reported increased sales. Within the service sector 98 per cent (up from 93 per cent) reported level or increased export sales over the same period and an equivalent number reporting level or increased advance orders.

Turning to the domestic market, 96 per cent of manufacturing respondents said UK sales had remained the same or increased in the first quarter – up from 88 per cent. On advance orders 93 per cent of manufacturers expected the same or increased sales over the next the months (a 12-point improvement).

Of the service sector businesses who were surveyed the results were once again much better than the prior quarter with 95 per cent reporting that UK sales had increased or stayed the same over the last quarter (up from 91 per cent).

The picture for the labour market remains largely positive with businesses, particularly service companies continuing to be optimistic about their plans to recruit. Once again the survey showed 100 per cent of service companies were expecting their workforce to increase or stay the same over the coming three months.

Half of the businesses who responded said they had tried to recruit new employees during the first quarter with 92 per cent (up from 88 per cent) of manufacturing and 66 per cent of service opportunities being for full-time jobs. In addition, the QES highlighted a switch in the skills shortage areas from professional/managerial roles to skilled manual/technical roles during the first quarter.

Investment plans for the service sector have shown a slight upward movement with 43 per cent (up from 24 per cent) focusing on plant & machinery.

Northamptonshire businesses continue to show confidence in both turnover and profitability over the next 12 months. The survey shows 97 per cent of manufacturers expect turnover to improve or stay the same and only two per cent expect profitability to worsen. Within the service sector 96 per cent expect turnover and 94 per cent expect profitability to improve or remain the same over the coming year.

Competition remains a challenge for both sectors however it is interesting to note that for the manufacturing sector exchange rates are now the leading factor of concern at 33 per cent (up from 21 per cent).

Paul Griffiths, chief executive of Northamptonshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “The QES on the first three months of 2014 is a reflection of the growing enthusiasm for trading overseas. Companies are showing solid performances in exporting and it appears their efforts are yielding results.

“It is also good news to hear the county’s manufacturers are trading so positively and trying to recruit more staff to fulfil roles in this sector.

“The continuing confidence by firms shown in this report gives us more reason to believe the economy is turning a corner. However the Government must support firms by providing long-term business friendly measures which go beyond the forthcoming General Election if we are to have a strong British economy again.”