Organisations based in the county have produced a A confidence index score of -3.5 for the third quarter of this year, according to the UK Business Confidence Index produced by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales and business advisers Grant Thornton.
The average UK score by county is +8.1 for the July-September period, down from +12.9 in the previous three months and continuing the trend in the East of England of a general decline in confidence over the last six quarters, from a post-recession high of +33.3 in Q1 2010.
The index has produced some good news. Export growth is particular strong, at 6.4% in the 12 months to Q3 compared to 4.4% across the UK economy as a whole.
However, the index report warns that continuing economic turmoil in the eurozone is a particular threat to UK exporters.Concern over the sustainability of overseas business may be a factor driving down confidence in future business prospects, it adds.
Firms are also reporting that business performance has strengthened since the final quarter of 2009. They report turnover growth of 2.9% year on year for the quarter, with annual growth in gross profits and sales volumes at 2.2% and 1.7% respectively.
Salaries paid by Bedfordshire firms have risen by an average 1.8% in the past year, following the regional trend and above the UK average of 1% annual salary growth. This suggests, says the ICAEW, that Bedfordshire consumers may be facing a slower erosion in disposable incomes than the typical Briton.
Technology and research firms continue to invest in research and development, with R&D budgets growing by 2.3% and at a faster rate this year than was recorded in 2009 and 2010.
Pippa Bourne, the ICAEW’s regional director in the East of England, said: “This is still undoubtedly a tough time for business in the region. Bank lending is still an issue for businesses, making it hard for them to invest in plant and staff and kick start the growth needed to bring the region back to a positive confidence score.”
The BCM is one of the largest and most comprehensive quarterly trackers of business confidence in the UK, based on the informed opinions of typically 1,000 senior business professionals working at the heart of business. It has proved to be an accurate forward indicator of GDP growth.