Businesses face a difficult winter ahead following a dramatic decline in the domestic market, which is further compounded by Brexit uncertainty.
Sales growth across the Bristol region narrowly avoided dipping down to single digits in the three months to mid-September, with just 11 per cent of companies reporting an increase, compared to 28 per cent for the same period in 2019.
The “bitterly disappointing” results from the last quarter were revealed in a Business West survey which showed the easing of lockdown did little to spur domestic orders, with growth down to 8.7 per cent – from 20 per cent last year.
The survey also highlights a “mounting jobs crisis in the region”, with less than six per cent of businesses taking on staff compared to 15.7 per cent in the same period last year.
Businesses in the retail, leisure and hospitality sector were among the hardest hit of more than 300 respondents.
Jenny Bowen of Clevedon-based travel agent Sense Africa says her business has been badly hit by restrictions and is calling on the Government to extend the furlough scheme for industries, such as tourism, that continue to be impacted.
“[The situation] is dire and business expansion will be very slow to get back to what its potential was,” says Jenny.
“I have had to give back £122,000 to guests losing a profit margin of £100,000. I will lose around £20,000 this year. If people are not travelling by Easter, then I will have to close the business.”
Others have joined her call for industry-specific support packages as the sluggish recovery knocks business confidence in the region.
The gloomy outlook for South West businesses is compounded by fears over a second spike and the end of the Brexit transition period.
Commenting on the survey results, Phil Smith, the managing director of Business West, said: “Our findings clearly demonstrate that business conditions remain fragile in the face of uncertainty, with the prospect of a difficult winter to come.
“It is time to be direct. The economy will need more support, over and above the chancellor’s welcome recent efforts. Ministers must stand ready to provide that support, and to strengthen measures to underpin business cash flow and jobs.
“The disappointing Test and Trace system must be improved to ensure as many businesses as possible can function through the winter and beyond.
“A Brexit deal must be reached to avoid yet more disruption.
“And above all, businesses need confidence and calm, clear communication to successfully navigate a tricky period ahead.”
Main photo by Lowie Trevena