Business sentiment survey 2017
About the survey
It’s been an eventful year for the economy. Brexit formed a major bump in an unsteady road and, when we asked 1,010 businesses, it was that that arose as the main concern. Despite this, however, we found that the majority of SMEs (businesses with less than £6.5m turnover) were feeling generally confident and optimistic.
Our survey has helped us to dive deeper into the collective mindset of businesses – and SMEs in particular – going into 2017. It revealed what they’re thinking about the UK economy in general, plus thoughts around international trade, hiring and capital investment.
Confidence in the UK economy
Things are perhaps a little brighter than expected. 43% of the businesses we asked maintained confidence in the economy throughout 2016 and only 33% overall said their confidence had decreased. The results varied a little between larger and smaller (less than £1m turnover) SMEs – a bigger 35% of this group said their confidence in the economy had decreased this year.
Looking forward to 2017 and a promising 47% expect things to remain as they are. This shows that, while Brexit has caused some uncertainty, it’s business as usual for most small companies.
Bearing that in mind, it’s no surprise that an encouraging 54% of the people surveyed had a steady level of confidence in their own business in 2016. Just under a quarter of those we asked felt even more confident throughout the year – and again this sentiment was more prevalent among the larger businesses we asked.
Turnover in 2017
The overwhelming majority of businesses surveyed – 50% – expect modest but steady growth of between 1 and 10% in 2017.
A notable 28% expect no growth, which can perhaps be attributed to the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, and 9% predict negative growth. Overall, however, the feeling among most seems to be cautiously optimistic.
When we asked all businesses, not just SMEs, the most optimistic region in regards to trade was Wales, followed by the North East and Northern Ireland. The South East, South West and Scotland were the least optimistic.
Moving on to Brexit and this was, unsurprisingly, the top concern of most businesses. The pound fell quite significantly the morning following the referendum and remains weak, signalling concerns for almost all businesses with links to the Eurozone. Indeed, exchange rates were cause for worry for 30% of the businesses we asked.
On top of this, a huge 88% felt that the result has impacted their confidence in the general economic climate. There was a desire for further clarity concerning the negotiations and how they might affect all businesses – whether they be UK focussed or international. The businesspeople surveyed had mixed opinions on how they’d like to see Brexit play out, with a close enough to even split between those who’d prefer the Swiss, Norwegian or Canadian model.
Our survey revealed that the majority of UK SMEs are focussed on domestic trade. 63% of those asked do more domestically, while 18% do a bit of both and 14% have more overseas clients. The international market is competitive, but Brexit could signal some new opportunities for UK businesses in and out of the Eurozone – it could be worth keeping an eye on the situation and seizing chances to expand in 2017.
64% of those who already trade overseas see things continuing as they are in 2017, while 18% foresee an increase in trade, and 9% said they’d stop international trade altogether. This does suggest that the majority of those who trade internationally don’t see Brexit having much of an effect in 2017. Perhaps this is because most businesses see the next 12 months as relatively free of Brexit-induced impact, or because they are optimistic about the trade deals that’ll be put into place.
The majority of the businesses we asked about capital investment in the year to come were neither optimistic nor pessimistic. Indeed, 65% expected investment to remain the same while 23% expected an increase. The larger SMEs were more likely to expect capital investment to increase than the smaller businesses (35% v 18%).
As with capital investment, the vast majority (67%) expected to hire the same number of employees this year as they did last year. 23% expect to hire more people in 2017, while 11% expect a decrease in hiring.