Region’s business confidence ‘highest in UK’

Business confidence in the West Midlands is the highest of any region or nation in the UK, according to latest figures.

Companies in the region reported higher confidence in their own business prospects month-on-month, up 23 points at 40%. Despite a small dip in their optimism in the economy, down three points to 44%, this gives a headline confidence reading of 42%.

West Midlands businesses flagged a range of growth opportunities for the next six months, including investing in and expanding their teams (47%), evolving their offering to include a new product or service (37%) and entering new markets (35%).

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

A net balance of 44% of businesses in the region expect to increase staff levels over the next year, up 14% points on last month.

Overall, UK business confidence remained unchanged during April, at 33%. Firms’ outlook on their future trading prospects rose five points to 39%, but their optimism in the economy dipped slightly on March’s reading (down from 32% to 26%). The net balance of businesses planning to create new jobs also decreased by six points to 26%.

Every UK region and nation reported positive confidence readings in April. Alongside the West Midlands, Wales (up 25 points to 20%) and the South East (up 19 points to 30%) reported the largest increases month-on-month, while the East Midlands reported the lowest reading of any region at 16%.

Dave Atkinson, regional director for the West Midlands at Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said: “We’ve felt a greater sense of optimism from businesses on the ground here over recent weeks, and it’s great to see that reflected in this month’s survey findings. Firms recognise that there are opportunities for growth, and we’ll be by their side helping them to make the most of this potential.

“The West Midlands has always been at the forefront of innovation and continues to lead the way with plans for a new industrial park in Solihull and ‘vertiport’ trial in Coventry. These exciting plans and ongoing investment will no doubt bring more opportunities for businesses across the region.”

From a sector perspective, manufacturing confidence increased by eight points to 43%, erasing part of the 19-point decline in March, helped by somewhat stronger trading prospects.

Retail and services confidence, however, were little changed on the month and is weaker than at the start of the year, with businesses increasingly concerned about the outlook for the wider economy. Retail confidence edged up one point to 29%, while services confidence was unchanged at 32%. Construction confidence fell for a second month to 33%, but is still on a par with the all-sector average.