Entrepreneurs in the North East are feeling increasingly optimistic about the future, according to a report commissioned by the Entrepreneurs’ Forum.
In the latest Entrepreneurs’ Forum Business Tracker Survey, two-thirds of business leaders said that they were more optimistic about the future of their business than they were in the same quarter last year.
Just 11% of entrepreneurs felt that the UK’s departure from the EU to be the main barrier to business growth – a similar figure was included in the Forum’s study during the corresponding period, July – September in 2016, followed the EU Referendum. However in the latest report respondents listed Brexit as a catalyst for positive change, encouraging them to move in new directions and seek new opportunities.
A more immediate threat highlighted by Entrepreneurs’ Forum members was the lack of available staff with relevant skills, which more than one-third considered to be the most pressing issue holding back the growth of their business.
The key findings of the report included:
- Overall sales: 70% reported an increase, while 11% said levels had remained the same
- Actual profit: An increase was reported by 66%, while 6% said levels were maintained
- Employee numbers: 64% reported an increase in employment, with 28% saying levels had not changed
- Hiring: 80% were able to fill vacancies, with 5% unable to find appropriately skilled employees. A majority of unfilled vacancies were engineering roles.
- Remuneration: 66% reported an increase, 23% said levels were the same
- Prices: 45% reported an increase, while 50% said levels had remained the same
- Capital expenditure: An increase was reported by 47%, and 44% said levels had remained as they were
Nigel Mills, chairman of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum, said: “In the latest Business Tracker Survey our members are demonstrating their true entrepreneurial spirit, with a majority showing an increase in profits and feeling positive about the future of their business.
“Three-quarters of our members are expecting an increase in the number of total sales, actual profit and staff numbers over the next 12 months. It is by creating a platform like the Entrepreneurs’ Forum that businesses can continue to scale up and maintain sustainable operations.
“However, if this ambition is to be realised more must be done to ensure we have the correct skill mix in the North East, particularly in the engineering sector. Currently our members consider an inability to find quality staff with the right skills to be their biggest barrier to growth, with 5% unable to fill vacancies.
“One of the signs of a great entrepreneur is the ability to take on challenges and turn them into opportunities, reposition and come back stronger. I am pleased to see that some members are doing this, taking on the apparent challenge of Brexit and using it to their advantage, finding new opportunities and diversifying. We have members who export around the world, including to the EU, and I expect this will increase as they continue to seek out and secure new contracts abroad.
“As we enter the New Year, things are looking positive for business in the North East, but it is important that we do our best to keep this positive momentum going. An increased focus must be placed on both apprenticeships and graduate development to ensure we have the right home-grown skills to plug skills gaps, and investment is needed in continuous training in order to ensure our workers can be as productive as possible.”