East of England confidence rises to pre-lockdown levels


30-04-2021

Business confidence in the East of England rose 12 points to 24% during April – the highest level recorded since February 2020 – according to the latest Business Barometer from Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking.  

Lloyds Bank’s Business Barometer for April 2021 shows:  

  • Overall confidence for firms in the East of England rose 12 points to 24% in April – the highest level since the start of the Covid-19 lockdowns 

  • Businesses’ optimism in the economy surged 23 points to 31%  

  • Overall UK business confidence at highest level since September 2018 as lockdown restrictions lift and businesses reopen in England 

Companies in the East of England reported higher confidence in their own business prospects month-on-month, up one point at 17%.  When taken alongside their optimism in the economy, up 23 points to 31%, this gives a headline confidence reading of 24%. 

Meanwhile, firms’ hiring intentions held steady month-on-month, with a net balance of 5% of businesses in the region expecting to increase staff levels over the next year. 

The Business Barometer questions 1,200 businesses monthly and provides early signals about UK economic trends both regionally and nationwide.  

Nationally, overall UK business confidence surged 14 points in April to 29%, the highest reading since September 2018. The result follows the reopening of outdoor hospitality venues and non-essential retail and personal services providers in England and comes ahead of further lockdown restrictions easing in Wales and Scotland. Firms’ confidence in their own business prospects rose by 14 points to 26%, and their optimism in the economy increased by 15 points to 32%. 

Most UK regions and nations reported a month-on-month increase in confidence during April, with firms in the South West (up 22 points to 30%), London (up 20 points to 32%), the East Midlands (up 20 points to 40%) and Yorkshire and the Humber (up 20 points to 32%) reporting the largest surges. No nation or region reported a fall in confidence, and nowhere had a net-negative confidence reading for the first time since July 2019. 

Dave Atkinson, regional director for the East of England, at Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said: “It’s encouraging to see confidence increase in the East of England for the third consecutive month, boosted by the easing of lockdown restrictions and reopening of non-essential businesses.  

“The region’s hospitality sector, in particular, will be enjoying its first taste of a well-earned return to normality and there’s hope we’ll see this trend continue as indoor gatherings resume in May.  

“Whatever the coming weeks may bring, we’ll remain by the side of businesses in the East of England as they continue to navigate their recovery.” 

Confidence increased in all sectors, with manufacturing and retail confidence levels at three-year highs. Manufacturing stood out as the most positive sector (40%), likely reflecting strong global demand and notwithstanding ongoing supply chain issues. Meanwhile, retail confidence jumped to 39%, while construction confidence also increased to 28%. Services confidence rose to 25%, which was also the highest it has been since 2018. 

Hann-Ju Ho, senior economist for Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said: “A third consecutive monthly rise in business confidence alongside the highest level of confidence for two-and-a-half years tells us a positive story about the UK’s continued economic recovery and leaves us optimistic about the road ahead.  

“While uncertainties remain regarding the evolution of the pandemic, this month’s improvement in sentiment reflects a further easing of COVID-19 restrictions, while progress in vaccine deployment is raising hopes that the negative impact of the health crisis will continue to fall in the months ahead as the economy reopens.”