78% of businesses in Leicester and Leicestershire feel confident concerning the future. That’s according to new is a result of the LLEP’s annual Business Tracker Survey.
The Covid-19 pandemic has already established an unprecedented impact on the Leicester and Leicestershire economy, with many businesses struggling to deal with the effects of restrictions enforced upon businesses along with a change in demand for products and services.
The LLEP survey has measured the outcome of Covid-19 on businesses during a period of 12 months, and allowed them to express their views on the support received as well as their future outlook.
More than three in four make use of the furlough programme for staff members, rising to a whopping 93% of small businesses. The survey details the proportion of businesses that have received financial support (grants or loans) to help cope with the impact of Covid-19 too, with two in five (40%) firms using a Bounce Back Loan and a third utilizing a VAT deferral. However, 10% of respondents suggest that they have accessed no support whatsoever.
Since April 2021, 64% of respondents have experienced staff working from home for the first time. This figure rises to 74% for small businesses. While two in three businesses didn't have provision for home working prior to the Covid-19 restrictions hit, the pandemic is responsible for a shift in attitudes among employers. 30% now plan to allow greater flexible working options than ever before.
Greater flexible working demands a higher degree of digital proficiency, and digital transformation is among the major cross-cutting themes of the LLEP Business Tracker Survey. Eighty-nine percent of businesses agree that digital provision is an important area of consideration. However, while 84% of respondents wish to some extent to grow digital technology within their business, over one third believe that digital and information technology (IT) skills have to be improved among their employees.
Staff training, recruitment and skills is yet another major area of focus of the survey. Micro businesses were much less likely to recognise any skills gaps at all, but the LLEP saw a general demand for improved IT, marketing, and technical skills.
Despite the hardships from the pandemic, many businesses responded positively to questions of recruitment. A quarter had recruited in the past two months, and though there were general concerns with the number of applications from people without the requisite skills, up to 50 % of all respondents said they'll look to recruit in the next 6 months, with only 6% expecting to make redundancies.
This positive outlook was reflected in answers relating to business confidence, with 78% feeling confident about the future of their business within the next six months. Four in ten businesses be prepared to grow over the next year, with simply 4% expressing no confidence at all.
Kevin Harris is Chair of the LLEP Board of Directors. He explained: “The results of this survey will have a huge role in helping to target our future investments and business support. Armed with the knowledge of what business want to see in future, we can work with providers to build up programme that address fundamental issues such as digital literacy and import-export guidance.
“It is great to see that, despite the hardships of the Covid-19 pandemic, nearly all businesses feel confident about the future. This speaks to the resilience from the business community here is Leicester and Leicestershire, and it is capacity for adaptation that has always made our region a hotbed of innovation and creativity.”
Two hundred businesses have taken part in the survey, and contributed an extensive range of responses from a wide variety of industry sectors. Sixty-one per cent of respondents were micro businesses (businesses with 2-9 employees), while 34% were small (10-49 employees) and 5% medium (50-199 employees). These demographics are broadly representative of the economy of Leicester and Leicestershire, as 98% of businesses in the region employ fewer than 50 people.
Other areas the survey focused on include business performance, export and import, environmental issues and issues related to the Business Gateway Growth Hub. The full results can be found here.