A year after lockdown, Confidence rises across the UK, with West Midlands at top

Smiley Face

Business confidence in the West Midlands rose 24 points during March to 27 per cent, the highest reading of all UK regions and nations, according to the latest Business Barometer from Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking. The data has been released just a week after the one-year anniversary of the first COVID-19 lockdown.

Companies reported higher confidence in their own business prospects month-on-month, up 14 points at 24 per cent.  When taken alongside their optimism in the economy, up 35 points to 32 per cent, this gives a headline confidence reading of 27 per cent.

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

When it comes to jobs, a net balance of 13 per cent of firms in the region expect to increase staff levels over the next year, up 21 points on last month.

Overall UK business confidence rose for a second consecutive month in March. Firms’ confidence increased by 13 points to 15 per cent, the highest reading since February 2020, before coronavirus was confirmed as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation.

UK firms’ economic optimism also increased by 15 points to 17 per cent, while confidence in their own business prospects jumped 10 points to 12 per cent.

In fact, every UK region and nation reported an increase in overall confidence during March, with most reporting a double-digit rise month-on-month. The North East (1 per cent to 26 per cent), West Midlands (3 per cent to 27 per cent) and East of England (-8 per cent to 12 per cent) reported the largest increases. Scotland was the only area to remain in net negative territory despite an increase in confidence, giving a reading of -2 per cent.

Amanda Dorel, regional director for the West Midlands at Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said: “One year on from the first lockdown, it’s promising to see confidence returning so emphatically, with businesses in the West Midlands the most assured of any in the UK.

“As restrictions are eased over the coming months, we’ll be by the side of firms as they focus on recovery.”

In the sectors, manufacturing and retail recorded the highest confidence levels, both at 25 per cent, while services and construction rose to 11% and 12% respectively

Hann-Ju Ho, Senior Economist, Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said: “It’s been a year since the first lockdown and the surge in confidence this month tells us firms are increasingly confident about economic recovery.

“The broadly positive outlook is driven by steady vaccine deployment, the roadmap out of lockdown and the extension of government support measures. It will be interesting to see whether the momentum for stronger business optimism is sustained in the months ahead.”