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March sees sharp fall in East of England business confidence

31 Mar March sees sharp fall in East of England business confidence

Business confidence in the East of England fell 25 points during March to 1%, according to the latest Business Barometer from Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking.

The research, taken between the 2nd and 16th March, showed that companies in the region had lower confidence in their business prospects at -8% and lower economic optimism at 10%. Together, this gives an overall confidence of 1%.

Across the UK, overall business confidence fell by 17 percentage points to 6% in March, the lowest level since October 2019. However, the report showed that nationally, for the second week of the survey, a much sharper fall in overall confidence was recorded at -3%. It matches the lowest dip seen by the barometer since December 2011 and is otherwise the lowest dip since March 2009 during the global financial crisis.

Responding specifically to the impact of the Coronavirus, 81% of East of England businesses stated that they had already been affected or expected to be impacted, ahead of Boris Johnson’s initial call for the public to stay at home on March 16th. The data illustrates the impact that the outbreak was having on business confidence before many initiatives launched by the Government to help combat the virus were announced.

The Business Barometer questions 1,200 businesses monthly and provides early signals about UK economic trends both regionally and nationwide.

David Atkinson, regional director for the East of England at Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said: “The impact of the virus was already being felt by East of England businesses before the social distancing measures were announced by the Government, so it is no surprise that the overall confidence and business prospects of firms across the region have dropped so significantly during the last month. As tough trading conditions continue to weigh heavily on businesses’ collective outlook, we can likely expect an even more subdued picture next month.

“That said, we are proud of the resilience and adaptability that businesses are showing, such as Essex-based specialist healthcare construction and engineering firm CFES, which is working with the NHS to deliver additional hospital bed capacity, with our support. This is just one example of how we are here to help our customers through any interruptions they may face. As part of our anticipated £18bn of support for businesses this year, we’ve set aside £2bn of arrangement fee free finance to help small firms affected by COVID-19.

“This funding is designed to help businesses manage their cashflow, which might have been affected by supply chain interruptions or employee absences. We’re also advising firms on how they can access the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS). We remain committed to supporting our customers in the weeks and months ahead in any way we can.”

Businesses in the North East had the highest confidence at 23%, ahead of the South West at 16%, and London at 12%.

Those in the South East were the least confident, with an overall confidence of -10%, 16 points below the national average.