Businesses report fastest growth in export sales

North East England Chamber of Commerce president John McCabe.
North East England Chamber of Commerce president John McCabe.

North East businesses have grown their export sales at the fastest rate in more than 11 years.

These results were in North East England Chamber of Commerce’s latest Quarterly Economic Survey (QES).

Chamber president John McCabe said: “The overall data from the first quarter of 2018 confirms continuation of the positive trend we’ve seen since the end of 2016.

“It is worth noting that the rate of growth has slowed slightly, perhaps reflecting wider economic trends. However, with survey indicators pointing to the highest growth levels for nearly three years, we can say with confidence that business looks good in the North East.

“Individual responses to this survey suggest many businesses are apprehensive about Brexit and what it will mean for future investment and growth. Given the contribution made by export sales growth to this quarter’s results, this comes as little surprise.”

The QES results for the first three months of 2018 show a slight increase in overall growth compared to the end of 2017. A major contributor to this was export sales growth reaching its highest level since the end of 2006, which more than compensated for a slight slowdown in domestic sales.

Jonathan Walker, head of policy and campaigns, said: “Businesses have continued to invest in both plant and training during the first quarter, with little change compared to the end of last year. However, we have seen some declines in scores for current and future workforce. This may reflect businesses being more hesitant to recruit but could also be a product of a tightening labour market and skills shortages.”

Across the key indicators, both the service and manufacturing sectors have reported growth this quarter and share similar levels of optimism about future profitability and turnover.

The QES also showed unease over the rate of inflation has reduced slightly, although it remains near the top of businesses’ list of concerns. Competition is once again the biggest concern, while there is also an increase in worries over staff costs; a possible product of impending increases in the living wage and the aforementioned skill shortages.

Mr McCabe said: “The Chamber is working to provide advice and certainty to businesses to help them plan for a post-Brexit future. We are also campaigning hard for a positive trade deal and frictionless borders with the EU as part of our ambition to build an increasingly global North East.”