Survey reveals optimism of Peterborough SMEs

Peterborough’s SME businesses believe there is a mixed outlook for firms in the region, but that trends demonstrate stronger performances than in 2020, according to a new report.

The 2021 Greater Peterborough Survey, undertaken in March by UK-wide regional accountancy and business advisor Azets in conjunction with Opportunity Peterborough, shows that nearly two-thirds (65%) expect to enjoy either a stronger or much stronger performance over the next 12 months.

A growing proportion of respondents also indicate they plan to invest in higher staffing levels and more capital projects.

More businesses had a stronger performance last year (47%) than the year before (44%), the survey concludes in what is its eighth year.

COVID-19 has impacted on local businesses in completely opposite ways, some having the best year ever, while others had little or no income and have 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. The main change from last year is that now very few firms 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 with the advent of working from home, 29% of respondents indicate they might reduce office space going forward. However, 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.

“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 he hoped there wouldn’t be the need to adapt to anything remotely like COVID-19 again, the ability to be flexible would continue to be crucial in this time of great change to the economy, customer needs, staff requirements and expectations, and new technology.

“The work being done by many in Peterborough to continue to develop education and skills remains vital,” he added.

Tom Hennessy, chief executive at Opportunity Peterborough, said: “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 had recorded the 8th highest recovery in job postings in the UK in April 2021, when compared to February 2020.

Analysis from the think tank Centre for Cities also showed Peterborough was one of just nine cities to see actual growth in its local jobs markets. This was reflected in the survey too, with 40% of respondents expecting a slight increase in staffing levels. Very few were considering operating with fewer staff and nearly 50% were expecting no change.

Tom said: “It’s been an unpredictable period, but with the majority of respondents expecting to achieve stronger or much stronger performance over the next 12 months there is certainly optimism for the future.

“However, for some it will be tough and we’d encourage local companies to get in touch with us for free, impartial and expert support.”

To view the 2021 Greater Peterborough Survey please go to

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