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Positivity is growing despite uncertainty, poll of business leaders finds

TWO out of three business leaders are feeling more positive about the future today than they were back in April in the grip of the initial lockdown.

Half of those surveyed in a poll by professional services firm Grant Thornton expect the new lockdown to negatively affect their business. But 40% are anticipating little if any impact at all.

Many were expecting a second lockdown and had planned accordingly.

The findings follow Grant Thornton’s Northamptonshire Limited Panel & Audience Discussion event, attended by 90 of the region’s top business leaders.

Recession is the issue keeping 38% of employers awake at night and a further 28% were most worried about the pressure of high-impact business critical issues over which they have no control over, including Brexit and the second national lockdown.  

The new poll follows Grant Thornton’s International Business Review conducted in April, during the country’s Covid-19 enforced nationwide lockdown. In April’s poll, business leaders ranked keeping people safe, motivated and able to do their jobs as their biggest challenge. 

Mike Hughes

However, in November’s poll 37% of participants considered the changing demands and expectations of customers as being the biggest challenge, 35% stating cash flow and 28% keeping people safe, motivated and able to do their jobs.  

Grant Thornton corporate finance director Mike Hughes said: “It has been a stressful period for business leaders but it is great to see that in general they are feeling more positive as we head into the second lockdown. 

“With so much uncertainty and little information particularly regarding Brexit and the economy, it is understandable that people are concerned about the recession and the impact this will have on their staff. 

“However, based on the data and comments from local business leaders, I believe there are plenty of reasons for Northamptonshire companies to be positive about the future.”

James Syrotiuk

Additional data shows the East Midlands region, of which Northamptonshire is part, has fared well in terms of core economic data such as unemployment rates.

The region has had a lower take up of the furlough scheme than average with only 13% of the workforce, compared to a national average of 16%, on furlough as at July 31.

James Syrotiuk, investor at BGF and a panellist at the discussion, said: “Business leaders are being hit from all sides at the moment with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, Brexit and a looming recession whilst at the same time they are trying to look after their employees, customers and suppliers as best they can.

“There remains an unprecedented amount of uncertainty but business leaders have showed how resilient they are and how creative and proactive they can be by managing their way through the challenges of 2020 to date.”   

Asked where they felt the government could best support business leaders, 37% believe it would be most beneficial for the low tax regime to be maintained.

However only 5% of business leaders reported lack of funding holding them back from maintaining and growing their business.

Mr Hughes said: “The discussion was insightful for Grant Thornton to understand how we can best help businesses move forwards. With a range of challenges that have never been faced before and the wider economy as volatile as it currently is, we are committed to helping those struggling with the sheer volume of major issues to steer their company in the best direction.”

Mr Syrotiuk added: “Uncertainty will no doubt remain for some time, but with the right peer to peer support, the right financial support from equity investors like BGF and wider government support schemes I am optimistic about the future for the region.”

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