Survey reveals ‘skill and flair’ of Lancashire business owners

•  Over 90 per cent of businesses have maintained or increased sales
•  72 per cent confident of investing in their business in next 12-months
•  Almost half plan to increase staff numbers

Confidence is returning to Lancashire’s business community with many companies increasing sales and staff numbers in the last 12-months and making plans for further investment.

And following the results of the 2010 Lancashire Business Survey, launched today (Friday October 8), business leaders believe the “dogged determination, skill and flair” of the county’s companies is helping them be successful in a difficult economic climate.

The comprehensive appraisal of businesses across the Red Rose County paints a picture of growing self-belief among business owners, with 93 per cent of respondents claiming to have maintained or increased sales in the last 12-months, and just 7 per cent saying business has shrunk. The survey also found almost half of respondents plan to increase staff numbers in the next 12-months.

The annual Lancashire Business Survey, now in its third year, aims to uncover the county’s ‘commercial DNA’ by capturing the opinions, experiences and insights of Lancashire businesses, with results and analysis supplied to local and regional government to help shape policy making.

The survey has been conducted by a partnership of private sector lobbying group Downtown Preston in Business, Moore and Smalley Chartered Accountants and Business Advisors, Forbes Solicitors, Northwest Regional Development Agency, Business Link Northwest, marketing communications consultancy Freshfield, and digital communications consultancy Soap Media.

The results were announced at an event at Preston North End today where guest speakers included Geoff Driver, leader of Lancashire County Council, Damian Walmsley, partner at Moore and Smalley Chartered Accountants and Business Advisors, and Daniel Milnes, partner at Forbes Solicitors.

The survey found that 72 per cent of businesses are either very confident or moderately confident about making a major business investment in the next 12-months.

However, over a third (36 per cent) of businesses said better financial support from government is needed to aid the recovery, and almost half (48 per cent) highlighted cashflow as the most critical issue they are facing.

Damian Walmsley, of Moore and Smalley Chartered Accountants and Business Advisors, said the results characterised Lancashire’s spirit, but also that the county was home to some highly skilled and entrepreneurial business owners.

He said: “I believe these figures demonstrate Lancashire businesses’ dogged determination and resoluteness. The economy remains challenging, but there is this stubborn optimism for which Lancashire folk are renowned, but which is clearly backed up with genuine skill and entrepreneurial flair. Our business owners are getting on with the job of trying to invest in and grow their companies.”

Daniel Milnes, partner at Forbes Solicitors, said: “These results tally with what we are hearing from our clients all over the county. They are not calling us to despair or give up: they are asking us to help make their plans for the future happen. Those plans include expansions, innovative business collaborations and more, but what they have in common is a forward-looking attitude which is less about where we are and more about where we are going.”

Frank McKenna, chairman of Downtown Preston in Business, said: “The Lancashire Business Survey offers a barometer of where leading Lancashire businesses from across the Red Rose County are at, both in terms of their own internal performances; and also in their outlook on the current economic and political climate. I am sure it will be a useful piece of intelligence for the agencies that govern us, and those who have a genuine interest in identifying the strengths and weaknesses of our regional business performance.”

Interestingly the survey shows there is broad support for the coalition government, with 57 per cent of respondents believing the new government will be good for business.

However, 72 per cent of businesses disagreed with the decision to abolish the Northwest Regional Development Agency (NWDA), with 45 per cent of those respondents saying it should remain, and 27 per cent saying that it should be kept on but trimmed down. Only 15 per cent said it should be culled altogether.

When it came to people, the survey found just over a third (34 per cent) of Lancashire businesses had made a reduction in staff numbers in the last 12-months, with 28 per cent recruiting more staff, and 38 per cent making no change to headcount.

Encouragingly, almost half (46 per cent) plan to increase staff numbers in the next 12-months, with just 5 per cent expecting staff numbers to decrease.

When it came to funding and support, the survey found 50 per cent of Lancashire business owners surveyed had invested their own profits into their companies in the last 12-months, with 22 per cent using bank and loan funding, 14 per cent public sector grant funding, and 5 per cent private investors or venture capital.

In an endorsement of the county’s business acumen, over four fifths (83 per cent) of businesses in the region use Lancashire-based professional advisors, with just 6 per cent using advisors in Liverpool, 5 per cent Manchester, and 6 per cent elsewhere. 88 per cent thought professional advisors in Lancashire could provide the same level of advice as Manchester and Liverpool-based firms.

Red tape continues to be a burden on Lancashire businesses with 86 per cent of respondents reporting it had impacted them negatively.

The survey also examined some of the local issues within the county. Three quarters (75 per cent) of respondents believed rival authorities should support Preston’s Tithebarn scheme, while 25 per cent understood their concerns. 86 per cent did not believe that a major retail and commercial centre in Preston would damage East Lancashire’s economy.

The most positive connotations of Lancashire as a business location were its major urban centres (26 per cent), proximity to rural environment (16 per cent), central UK location (13 per cent), work / life balance (12 per cent), and low-cost office space (12 per cent).

A total of 103 companies responded to this year’s survey, representing a broad range of business sectors, including agricultural, building and construction, finance, food and drink, leisure, manufacturing, retail, services and technology.

For a full breakdown of the results visit