Surveys find sales have improved but cash flow is a concern

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THE fortunes of businesses in Yorkshire are on the up, two new surveys have suggested.

The first, from Leeds, York and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, reports that UK sales, overseas sales and employment have all improved noticeably on the previous quarter.

It said business confidence has rebounded significantly following last quarter’s fall and manufacturers’ turnover expectations are now at their highest level in nearly five years.

But the quarterly survey of members revealed that cash flow remains a top concern and businesses fear that Friday’s 5.6 per cent increase in business rates will divert resources from job creation and investment.

Mark Goldstone, head of business representation and policy, said: “Following last quarter’s fall in GDP, businesses and policy makers will be relieved that this quarter’s survey points towards growth.”

But he added: “If there is one thing that we have learnt since the end of the recession is that the only consistency is inconsistency and it is still too early to predict sustainable recovery. The economy still faces huge challenges.”

In Bradford, the chamber’s membership reported that sales and orders picked up on the levels of late 2011.

Its quarterly survey said confidence had improved in the service sector and manufacturers are more certain about the outlook.

It said domestic as well as international markets showed signs of improvement, while there was also hope for improved investment levels. But employment levels and recruitment activity remained weak.

Chamber president Stephen Wright said: “We hope that the upward trends revealed this quarter continue throughout the year.

“Many have been undulating, at best, for several quarters now, and businesses in Bradford as well as across the country need to see a sustained period of consolidation and growth this year.

“Until we see that confidence maintained at a decent level for, say, three successive quarters, there will still be much hand-wringing.

“The fact that we have these improvements now will lead to sighs of relief.

“We also need to guard against becoming too assured or complacent.

“Confidence is very volatile and there are plenty of obstacles waiting to derail us.

“The business rate rise is yet to leave its mark, the construction sector – a key element in propelling Bradford’s pace of regeneration – needs more work in order to thrive, and the rising cost of fuel is still a nightmare.”