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Barker Storey Matthews’ Simon Burton is Chair of Suffolk Chamber of Commerce in Bury St Edmunds.

The following article is reproduced here by kind permission of Suffolk Chamber of Commerce and a version first appeared in the Bury Free Press earlier this month (July).

The latest figures from Suffolk Chamber of Commerce’s Quarterly Economic Survey (QES) - for the second three months of 2020 - shows the overwhelming and negative impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on the county’s business community.

Suffolk Chamber’s QES is in association with RSM - a multi-national network of accounting firms, forming the sixth largest accountancy professional services network in the world.

159 firms from Suffolk completed the latest survey, with 35 from the manufacturing sector and 124 in services.

Across both of these sectors, virtually every measurement saw an unprecedented decline into negative territory.

The balance of manufacturing firms reporting an increase in domestic sales fell to -63% (a fall of 70% compared with Q1), with overseas sales at -38% (down by 42%).

The numbers of firms reporting an increase in employment fell from +31% to -26%, with those anticipating a future increase in employment falling from +26% to -14%.

Those reporting positive cashflow stood at -54% (down by 45%), with confidence in improving turnover at -37% (down by 59%) and improving profits down to -44% (down by 44%).

For service companies, the declinein business activity and sentiment were more severe.

The balance of service firms reporting an increase in domestic sales fell to -76% (a fall of 79% compared with Q1), with overseas sales at -70% (down by 49%).

The numbers of service firms reporting an increase in employment fell from +10% to -25%, with those anticipating a future increase in employment falling from +21% to -30%.

Those reporting positive cashflow stood at -68% (down by 63%), with confidence in improving turnover at -50% (down by 73%) and improving profits down to -62% (down by 62%).

In conclusion, these are eye-watering figures, but not unexpected given the enormous impact of the lockdown on business activity. Having handled 2000-plus queries from companies over the last three months or so, Suffolk Chamber has an unique insight into the challenges, prospects and hopes of the county’s business community as we enter the recovery period.

As well as many tales of real hardship, we have also encountered many examples of determination, innovation and resilience. As we enter into the recovery phase of the pandemic, Suffolk Chamber is uniquely placed to ensure that the interests of its members are front and centre in any plans to invest in and shape a successful and sustainable ‘new’ normal.

Suffolk Chamber is grateful to Suffolk Knowledge, part of Suffolk County Council, for providing the analysis of this QES.

For more information about Barker Storey Matthews in Suffolk, contact Simon Burton, sb@bsm.uk.com and for Suffolk Chamber of Commerce see https://www.suffolkchamber.co.uk.