Norfolk businesses outperforming East of England and London despite worries about Brexit

Owner managed businesses in Norfolk are more likely to report growth than their peers in the rest of the East of England and London despite some of those surveyed reporting a negative impact from Brexit, according to research by Price Bailey, the Norwich-based accountants. The research was unveiled at an interactive panel discussion at Dunston Hall Hotel, Norwich, attended by nearly two hundred business people.

According to the research, 68% of Norfolk businesses surveyed grew financially over the past year. That compares to 57% of the business owners surveyed across the East of England and London who reported financial growth.

54% of Norfolk business owners sampled expect their company’s finances to improve over the next year, compared to 50% of respondents across the East of England and London overall.

Despite the improving financial performance and optimism of the Norfolk business leaders questioned, 26% reported that Brexit has already damaged their businesses compared to just 8% who said that Brexit had been positive.

The research, Inside the Minds of Business Leaders, was undertaken by Ipsos MORI and involved interviews with 200 local business leaders across the East of England and London on a variety of issues ranging from Brexit, business confidence, growth and exit strategies and other key challenges.

Martin Clapson, Managing Director at Price Bailey, comments: “The businesses in Norfolk we surveyed reported significantly better financial performance and tend to be more optimistic about growth than their peers in the rest of East of England and London. This is positive but those business leaders who said Brexit is having a negative impact cited the devaluation of the pound as a major concern, which for many will have meant increased costs that they must absorb.”

“According to those we questioned, Norfolk businesses are the least likely to export compared to the other areas we surveyed, with nearly two thirds transacting no business outside the UK. This leaves them disproportionately affected by the fall in the value of the pound and, unlike exporters, unable to benefit from the competitive advantage the cheap pound confers in overseas markets.”

He adds: “Over two thirds of the Norfolk business owners we spoke to said that finding and retaining people is a concern, compared to just over half in London. Businesses which can offer flexible and remote working are more likely to keep their best people, which is why the development of infrastructure, such as broadband and mobile phone networks, are so important in rural areas like Norfolk.”

According to the Price Bailey research, when asked what the one thing they would like to see the Government do to support businesses in Norfolk, just 6% of business leaders sampled said, ‘reverse Brexit’. The top priorities were ‘reduce legislation/cut regulation’ (20%) and ‘reduce the tax burden’ (16%).

Martin Clapson says: “While some Norfolk businesses have suffered from the fall in the pound, the business leaders we sampled suggest that there is little desire to reverse Brexit now the process is underway. Businesses have more immediate concerns, such as red tape and the tax burden. If the Government were to focus on these concerns, the negative impact of Brexit could be partially offset.”

Only 40% of Norfolk business owners responding to the survey have a business plan they regularly refer to and update

The research also shows that just 40% of Norfolk business owners responding to the survey have a plan that they regularly review – the lowest among business leaders in the areas we surveyed.

Martin Clapson says: “A business plan is an important document for owners who want to manage their businesses more effectively. It is doubly valuable during a period of economic uncertainty, such as we are experiencing now. A business plan can lead to better investment decisions and help with cashflow management, which can put a business in better shape for negotiating economic headwinds, such as the depreciation of the pound or interest rate rises.”

He concludes: “Under a third (28%) of Norfolk businesses we questioned have an exit plan yet succession planning is one of the major headaches for business owners. Many business owners balk at the idea of having an exit plan at the outset but a properly considered and executed plan can make finding a buyer a quicker process and significantly enhance the sale value.”

The event at Dunston Hall Hotel was marked by a panel discussion featuring Jonathan Cage, President of the Norwich Chamber of Commerce, James Sproule, former Chief Economist and Director of Policy at the Institute of Directors, and Tim Pike, Deputy Agent for the South East and East Anglia at the Bank of England.