Declan’s Policy Update: Quarterly Economic Survey results

Every three months, all Chambers of Commerce across the UK ask businesses in their respective areas to complete a Quarterly Economic Survey, or QES.

QES is the UK’s longest-running independent business survey and is widely acknowledged by the likes of The Bank of England as being a very useful barometer of business confidence and economic performance. 

Results from QES Q1, 2024  have just been published and these are the headlines from QES:

  • Manufacturing – 15%; Services – 85%.
  • 21% of respondents are exporters.
  • 89% of respondents are small to medium-sized enterprise (SME) businesses.
  • QES fieldwork took place between Monday 12th February 2024 and Friday 8th March 2024.

Domestic sales

Overall, 42% of Staffordshire respondents reported an increase to domestic sales in the last three months, while 11% reported a decrease.   At a national level, 36% of respondents reported an increase to domestic sales in the last three months, while 22% reported a decrease.


Overall, 11% of Staffordshire respondents reported an increase to plant/equipment investment in the past three months, while 82% reported no change, and 7% reported a decrease.  At a national level, 24% of respondents reported an increase to plant/equipment investment in the last three months, while 16% reported a decrease.


The percentage of Staffordshire firms expecting their prices to rise stands at 31%, compared to a national response of 46%.  This has halted a downward trend, seen since Q2, 2022.

External factors

Energy prices are the top external factor of concern for the majority of respondents (26%), along with changes to National Living Wage (19%).

Headline trends across national QES results from Q1, 2024:

  • 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. 

We’ve had some mixed business news this week….. 

Inflation rate fell to 3.2% in March 2024 but national QES results (above), indicate that almost half of firms expect their prices to rise over the next three months. Labour costs are seen as the main driver but increasing political and global uncertainty is becoming a key factor.  Businesses are waiting to see how this data translates into changes on interest rate policy.

The number of job vacancies continues to fall, and with unemployment on the rise, there are further signs that the labour market is cooling.  Too many firms are still struggling to find the people and skills they need to fill job vacancies.

Our next QES will run from Monday 13th May to Friday 8th June and I’ll be sharing the survey link in my blog of Monday 13th May.  Please take the 60 seconds needed to complete a QES and tell us about your levels of business confidence.