Chair’s Report April 2024

There’s lots happening at the Chamber as we move, hopefully, towards Spring and Summer.

Numerous events for all levels of membership, dinners, networking events and the Awards Gala in June. There will also be news regarding a re-vamped and enlarged Expo for October. The March Expo was a huge success with a record 120 exhibitors and 750 visitors across the day. Thanks for your support if you had a stand or were able to visit.

If you have ever attended any Chamber event hosted by my colleague Robert Elliot you will have been encouraged, at least once, to complete the Quarterly Economic Survey (QES). This contributes towards the national QES survey, and the data is then used to produce the British Chamber of Commerce (BCC) National QES. This has just been published and I am sharing the highlights on this report.


  • No overall improvement in business conditions in Q1 2024 as measured by investment, sales and cashflow.
  • Levels of business confidence remain unchanged, with 56% of UK businesses expecting an increase in turnover in the next twelve months.
  • Almost half of firms are expecting the price of their goods or services to rise.
  • Interest rates continue to slowly decline as a concern for businesses.
  • Hospitality sector continues to struggle disproportionately, with 39% of these firms reporting a decrease in their cash flow, compared with 28% of respondents overall.

The BCC’s Quarterly Economic Survey – the UK’s largest and longest-running independent business survey – shows most firms reporting no improvement in investment levels, sales or cashflow in the first quarter of 2024.

After a slight rise in Q4, levels of business confidence have remained static. For the second quarter in a row, 56% of businesses say they are expecting an increase in turnover over the next year.

With inflation likely to remain volatile over the coming months – the data also reveals that more firms expect hikes in their own prices, with staffing costs being the main pressure.  The survey, conducted between 12 February and 12 March, of over 4,800 firm across the UK – 92% of whom are SMEs (fewer than 250 employees) – also reveals business performance across different sectors varies considerably.

So, while I detect a degree of new confidence in our region and the UK, the underlying trend is still one of relatively low investment.

David Bharier, Head of Research at the British Chambers of Commerce said: 

“The latest results from the QES provide further evidence that the UK economy is trapped in a low-to-no growth state.

Although business confidence remains buoyant at the start of the year, most SMEs are still not reporting any tangible improvement to business conditions.

The lack of investment among most SMEs is a real concern. Inflation, skills shortages, and an almost endless list of new trade barriers with the EU, coupled with a lack of clear direction on infrastructure and technology investment at the government level, have led to paralysis for many businesses.

The increased percentage of firms expecting price rises is also a reflection of global conflicts and the introduction of further import costs.”

The detailed report can be found here: BCC Q1 2024 National QES. Well worth visiting, if you can.

The recent rise in the national living wage is good news for millions of employees. But it comes at a time when labour costs pressures for business are already very high. Firms need room to breathe as they strive to pay staff fairly.

In this election year it is vital that politicians remain focused on helping businesses invest, develop and grow. The BCC report is shared with government so they can understand the real environment and challenges to help us operate and grow. So, support Robert Elliot – when you can – to complete the QES. It is a real value add to the Chambers’ ability to influence government policy.

I hope to see many of you at the upcoming events. Meanwhile, my best regards to you all, Mike.