Suffolk firms focus on growth in face of Brexit uncertainty as top 100 business study launches for 2017

09 October 2017

More than half of Suffolk businesses are optimistic about future business conditions with a similar number planning to make significant investment over the next 12 months - despite looming uncertainty over Brexit, says a new survey from financial and business advisers Grant Thornton and regional top 100 law firm Birketts.

The poll has been conducted to mark the launch of this year’s ‘Suffolk Limited’, an annual study into the performance of the county’s 100 largest businesses which over the past 15 years has grown to become a recognised barometer of the local economy. The report was originally conducted solely by Grant Thornton and has run in partnership with Birketts since 2015.

Findings of the survey show that 55% of Suffolk firms questioned feel confident about trading conditions over the coming year, whilst 61% expect to substantially invest in new equipment, property or acquisitions and a further 54% plan to increase headcount over the same period.

However, this positive picture is accompanied by concerns for the longer term with almost three quarters (71%) of companies stating that Brexit will negatively impact their business going forward.

Rob Thomson, Director at Grant Thornton’s Ipswich office who is leading this year’s Suffolk Limited study, comments: “Last year’s Suffolk Limited showed the county’s 100 largest firms delivered significant growth, primarily due to businesses continuing to improve their operational efficiency and taking a cautious attitude to investment.

“Our launch poll suggests Suffolk businesses are planning to continue this approach over the next 12 months, possibly as part of a strategy to ensure they are in the strongest position to face the challenges – and also capitalise on the opportunities – Brexit will undoubtedly present. 

“The 2017 Suffolk Limited findings will help to clarify this view and build a detailed picture of the health of the county’s economy. The report will also further inform our ongoing work to help create a more progressive and productive local economy at all levels.”

The poll findings also identified skills shortages as one of the main barriers to growth for Suffolk companies with over half (52%) of firms stating there is insufficient talent available when recruiting to help move their business forward. 

Junior management positions were highlighted as the most difficult to fill (34%), followed by senior management and apprentice level roles, both mentioned by 24% of firms.
Encouragingly however, 68% of the county’s businesses said they plan to take on an apprentice over the coming year, supported through the Apprenticeship Levy to help fund the cost. 

Jonathan Agar, CEO at Birketts which has offices in Ipswich, added: “Availability of the right skills continues to be a key challenge for businesses not only in Suffolk but across the UK as a whole, and is an issue which threatens to hamper productivity.

“Training existing and new staff can play an important role in upskilling employees and apprenticeships are fast gaining recognition as a credible, valuable route to further education. With the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy, taking on an apprentice has become more affordable and accessible for employers of all sizes. It’s positive to see so many Suffolk firms considering this move.”

The Suffolk Limited report looks at key performance indicators for the county’s top 100 companies such as operating profit and employment, plus a breakdown of the financial data by sector, providing an accurate picture of the Suffolk marketplace. 

The 2017 Suffolk Limited results will be unveiled at a breakfast briefing on Wednesday 29 November at Wherstead Park, Ipswich. For further information, to register your interest for the event, or to request a full copy of the report, please email [email protected].

Photo: Suffolk Limited launches for 2017. Rob Thomson of Grant Thornton (left) with Jonathan Agar of Birketts.