Firms look to expand but struggle to find suitable candidates, according to Northamptonshire economic report

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Firms in Northamptonshire are experiencing strong jobs growth as employers looked to increase their workforce at the start of 2015, according to the latest Northamptonshire Chamber of Commerce Quarterly Economic Survey.

The report for the first quarter of 2015, which contains responses from 98 county businesses employing 3,371 people, also show that despite a slight dip in exports compared to Q4, 2014 by manufacturers, global sales and advance orders remained at strong levels in Northamptonshire and business confidence overall remained high.

Looking at the results more closely, between January and March 96% of manufacturing respondents’ workforce (up from 84%) and 94% of service sector respondents (up 3%) had increased or remained the same during the quarter.

The study showed 70% of manufacturing and 57% of service respondents tried to recruit new employees during Q1 however difficulties still exist in recruitment for the manufacturing sector with 71 % of respondents experiencing challenges in finding employees compared to 56% in the service sector (down from 70%.)

Turning to overseas sales, 79% of manufacturers export sales’ remained the same or increased over the last three months, 78% (down from 91%) of respondents also reported advance export orders had increased or stayed the same. Within the service sector 90% of respondents (down 10%) reported level or increased export sales in Q1 and 76% (fall from 100%) reporting level or increased advance orders.

Meanwhile investment plans for the service sector were similar to Q4 2015 with 93% (plant & machinery) and 98% (training) reporting level or increased investment plans this quarter.

Manufacturers were also facing price pressures to raise prices due to overheads and pay settlements – at 45% and 42% respectively. For service firms, overheads is still the main concern for service respondents at 41% (up from 32% in the prior quarter). Worryingly pay settlements are also an increased concern at 31%.

Northamptonshire businesses continue to show confidence in both turnover and profitability in 2015. The study reveals 94% (down from 100% in the last three quarters) of manufacturers expect turnover to improve or stay the same over the next 12 months, with 14% expecting profitability to worsen over the same period. Within the service sector 92% expect turnover and 94% expect profitability to improve or remain the same over the coming year (down 6% and 1% compared to the prior quarter).

Paul Griffiths, chief executive of Northamptonshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “The first QES of 2015 shows a very positive start to the year for the Northamptonshire economy.

“Confidence levels remain high and Northamptonshire firms are increasing their workforce – although pay settlements has crept back as concern for companies, it is an indication that as prices rise, employers are reviewing their employees’ salaries. This is a potential sign of the economic recovery.

“Whichever Government is in place, post the imminent general election, must further support our firms by focussing on long-term growth and strategic vision to help them reach their full potential.”