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Stronger performances and more staff predicted by small city businesses

Nearly two-thirds of Peterborough's small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) believe that performance over the next 12 months will be stronger.
Pboro april 2021
More businesses said they had a stronger performance last year than the year before

A recent survey shows that there is a mixed outlook for firms in the region, but that trends are generally positive. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of SMEs in Greater Peterborough expect to achieve a stronger or much stronger performance over the next 12 months, with a growing proportion of respondents indicating they will invest in higher staffing levels next year as well as in capital projects. 

The findings were revealed in the 2021 Greater Peterborough Survey, organised by Azets in association with Opportunity Peterborough. The survey is now in its eighth year and received responses from a wide cross section of businesses across the city.

More businesses had a stronger performance last year (47%) than the year before (44%), the survey states. The impact of Covid-19 was felt in extremes; some businesses had their best year, while others have had little to no income and struggled to survive.

A significant swing in those showing a weaker performance – nearly doubling to 40% – is attributed to the effects of the virus, and businesses experiencing little or no impact are in the minority.

In contrast, a large majority of those surveyed claim there will be no impact on them from Brexit, although a quarter indicated a negative impact. In a change from the 2019 survey, very few firms now suggest that Brexit will have a positive impact.

According to the survey, approximately 22% of businesses expect to seek larger premises in the next five years, similar to recent years, although the advent of working from home has seen 29% of respondents indicate they might reduce office space going forward.

Recruitment issues, including finding the right skills, continue to be one of the major challenges businesses in the region face.

Mark Jackson, partner at Azets’ office on Lincoln Road, Peterborough, urges firms to take note of the report’s findings. He said: "Businesses across Greater Peterborough cover a wide variety of sectors and perhaps that is part of how we manage to be more resilient than other cities. The work being done by many in Peterborough to continue to develop education and skills remains vital."

He added: "Many businesses who gave their views highlighted how they have been able to adapt successfully to change. This ability is perhaps amongst the most important skills needed by leaders of any organisation.

"While hopefully, we will not need to adapt to anything remotely like Covid-19 again, we will continue to need to be flexible in the light of a changing economy, changing customer needs, a changing workforce with different requirements and expectations, and new technology. 

"We look forward to the improving expectations for next year, highlighted in our report, coming to fruition."

Tom Hennessy, chief executive at Opportunity Peterborough, added: "Nearly every business has been impacted by lockdowns and remote working, but the effect on performance has been disparate. Last year was a very mixed year with some businesses having their best year ever while others were struggling to survive.

"Although the government put in numerous schemes to incentivise businesses to keep staff on their payroll, the jobs market has taken a knock. However, in a promising sign of recovery, and more good news for those actively seeking employment, Peterborough has posted the 8th highest recovery in job postings in the UK in April 2021 when compared to February 2020."

He continued: "The analysis from the think tank, Centre for Cities, also showed Peterborough was one of just nine cities to see growth in their local jobs markets. This trend is reflected in the survey results, with 40% of respondents expecting a slight increase in staffing levels with very few organisations considering operating with fewer staff and nearly 50% expecting no change.

"It’s been an unpredictable period, but with the majority of respondents expecting to achieve stronger or much stronger performance over the next twelve months there is certainly optimism for the future. For some it will be tough, and we’d encourage local companies to get in touch with us for free, impartial, and expert support."