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Gloucestershire Business News

Strike action sees UK economy flatline, but confidence rises

The UK economy saw no growth in February after being hit by the effects of strikes by public sector workers, the latest figures show.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said that a rise in construction activity had been offset by walkouts by teachers and civil servants.

It follows a surprise 0.4% jump in economic growth in January.

Despite February's flat performance, the chancellor said the UK's economic outlook was "brighter than expected".

Jeremy Hunt said that GDP - the measure of economic growth - had grown by 0.1% in the three months to February and the UK was "set to avoid recession".

But Labour said the UK was "lagging behind on the global stage with growth on the floor".

There was also a boost from retailing, with many shops having "a buoyant month".

Meanwhile, Business West's recent survey of businesses in Quarter 1 2023 has found that while over a half of businesses rate their current business resilience as good or excellent, over three-quarters are reporting difficulties with finding suitable staff. This figure is up two percentage points since last quarter.

This comes as the recent ONS Labour Market figures showed that there are still over 1.2 million vacancies across the UK.

Over 300 businesses from across the South West took part in the survey, with the results revealing that business confidence in both the UK economy and the prospects of their own business are both higher than last quarter.

Confidence in the national economy has increased dramatically to 20%, from an all-time low of 6% in Q4 2022.

The proportion expressing confidence about their own business prospects is up to 52% (from 46% previously).

68% of businesses said they were under pressure to increase prices because of labour costs, and this is the leading source of inflation.

Deborah Flint, managing director of Cinderhill Farm, a food producer based in Gloucestershire, said: "To cover an increase in salaries to meet the new Living Wage Foundation, salary level and associated knock-on increases to all other staff, we are likely to have to increase our prices."

Despite continued challenges, and while net UK sales and orders continue to be negative, they are much closer to 'break even' than they were in Q4 2022.

The proportion of businesses reporting falling sales has decreased compared to the end of last year.

Matt Griffith, director of policy at Business West, said: "Despite the continuing challenges facing businesses, it is encouraging to see a rise in positive sentiment amongst firms.

"While the top concerns for businesses during the quarter were general economic conditions, inflation, and general business uncertainty, these are all down since last quarter.

"However it is still a tough environment for businesses, with cuts to the energy support scheme leaving many firms uncertain about what the next 12 months will bring and the tight labour market continuing to hinder firms' growth."

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