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Chamber survey reveals fears of Norfolk firms as growth remains static

PUBLISHED: 14:02 17 July 2017 | UPDATED: 14:02 17 July 2017

The chief executive of Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, Chris Sargisson. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The chief executive of Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, Chris Sargisson. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

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Key indicators for Norfolk’s services and manufacturing sectors have weakened in the past three months, a major survey of the county’s businesses has shown.

The Norfolk results of the British Chambers of Commerce’s quarterly economic survey (QES) show that growth remained static in the second quarter of 2017, though, while confidence in future turnover dipped, firms were more upbeat about overall profitability.

In the services sector, reported domestic activity, employment and investment continued to weaken, with consumer-facing companies such as retail and hospitality reporting weaker growth than B2B entities. Manufacturing sales and exports fell from the previous quarter.

The balance of Norfolk firms expecting a prices to rise saw a decrease, though the percentage of firms reporting concerns over raw material costs and pay settlement rose.

Chris Sargisson, Chamber chief executive, said the results showed that “for many businesses, growth is static at best, and at worst, beginning to slow”, and called for the government to prioritise business growth.

“Government must play its part by tackling the issues that hold businesses back, including labour shortages, weaknesses in our physical and digital infrastructure, and high upfront costs which dampen investment intentions and firms’ growth potential,” he added.

Nova Fairbank, public affairs manager for Norfolk Chamber, said: “The services sector activity stuttered a little with a number of the key balances weakening this quarter. Consumer-focused industries were the worst performers – further evidence that rising inflation is dampening their activity. Norfolk’s manufacturing results saw a definite slow-down and the longer-term trends suggests that the manufacturing sector’s contribution to overall growth will not be enough to offset weaknesses elsewhere.”

Chamber member Sarah West, managing director of Full Mix Marketing, said an increased investment in training was encouraging as a sign that businesses were looking to increase productivity from within.

Cawston-based tap designer and manufacturer Greg Rowe said his order book was levelling off.

“If there’s any certainty, it’s certainty that we’re in for a bumpy ride for the next couple of years,” he said, adding that inflation would add to employment costs and result in lower capital investment.

“[Companies are] internalising things a little bit more, which is a good sign because it means they are going to make the most of what they have and that’s retraining their staff, looking at new technology and marketing – squeezing a little bit more out of the products and opportunities that they have,” he said.

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