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Business Conditions Are Improving In South Yorkshire But Growth Is Tentative

Across South Yorkshire, business conditions are improving— in areas such as cash flow, sales, and overseas exports — albeit at a somewhat marginal rate. However, while this may seem like grounds for relative optimism, it is also worth noting that organisations are continuing to face significant inflationary pressures, and that many of them are forecasting an imminent rise in the costs of their goods and services.

These sobering findings (which are consistent with trends observed elsewhere around the country) are taken from the recently-published results of the South Yorkshire Infrastructure Survey. Conducted by the three regional Chambers of Commerce — those being the ones for Doncaster, Sheffield and Barnsley & Rotherham — this questionnaire ran between November and December 2023, and was used to gauge the views of local business owners on a wide range of different issues.

As its name suggests, the survey did have a specific focus on the theme of transport infrastructure. Aiming to get under the bonnet of this issue, it solicited respondents’ opinions on the quality of South Yorkshire’s roads, its railway networks and its public transportation services, as well as the various challenges that they are facing in relation to each of these.

Feeding into the nationwide Quarterly Economic Survey (QES), it also asked them to share their views on the overall state of our economy, their experiences with both staff recruitment and retention, and if their investment plans for the future have changed at all in recent months.

Reacting to the insights from this poll, the respective Chief Execs for all three South Yorkshire Chambers issued the following joint statement:

“While none of our results are especially surprising — given the current macroeconomic climate and the assorted headwinds that businesses are contending with— they are nevertheless incredibly revealing.

“Although there have been tentative improvements in sales figures and order books, growth remains weak across South Yorkshire and several factors are putting additional pressure on firms at the moment; most notably high levels of inflation, rising interest rates and corporate taxation. Meanwhile, recruitment continues to be a perennial sticking point for many organisations in the region, with 85% of the firms that have tried to recruit in this last quarter having struggled to do so”.

“Of course, these findings are in line with the national trends being observed by our umbrella body, The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) right now. As such, we are echoing their call for a long-term plan for growth from the Government, and are similarly urging politicians to remain focused on growing the economy and helping businesses thrive, as they head into a noisy election year.

“On the subject of South Yorkshire’s transport infrastructure, our survey respondents made it clear that improvements are widely needed. The majority of organisations (65%) reported that they are facing regular delays on the roads, while over a third of them also pointed out similar problems with our rail networks and our public transportation services.

“In turn, these various issues are leading to increased travel costs for firms, restricted access to prospective employees and even the loss of some business opportunities.”

Expanding upon this, Peter Kennan and Sam Chapman, Co-Chairs for the South Yorkshire Transport Forum, added:

“These findings are very much aligned with what businesses have previously told us and reaffirm many of our own priorities. It is particularly clear that opportunities to enhance business at home and abroad are being negatively impacted by poor infrastructure in the region, which is why we must continue to press for investment in our road networks, railways, trams and buses.

Reacting to the findings, Oliver Coppard, Mayor of South Yorkshire, also commented:

“I’m grateful for this report, and the insight it offers into the challenges facing our businesses, entrepreneurs and innovators. It offers yet more evidence that our shared priorities are the right ones: better public transport, skilling up our communities, and making economic growth a priority. Because I am determined to build a bigger, better economy in South Yorkshire

“Of course that has to be a partnership between the public and private sector, and between us here in the region and national government. None of the challenges we face are easy to overcome but I will do everything I can to help our brilliant businesses to thrive, and continue to push Westminster to do the same.”

The QES (which this quarter incorporated the results of the South Yorkshire Infrastructure Survey) is carried out by the British Chambers of Commerce. It is the largest independent business survey in the UK and its findings are used to influence policy and decision-making at a national level. More information about this can be found here.

Meanwhile, the region-specific insights from the South Yorkshire Infrastructure Survey are available to view here.