The Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce’s Fifth Business Monitor Survey

7th May 2020, 12:04 pm

Results of fifth weekly Business Monitor survey conducted by Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce with the support of pro-manchester and Manchester Law Society shows customer demand and business confidence remaining low as employers wait to see how and when the lockdown will be relaxed. The economic fallout from this pandemic is affecting across all sectors and all parts of Greater Manchester and the wider North West.

Customer Demand

In the last six to eight weeks, many businesses have been put in distress with a sudden collapse in customer demand. In the latest Business Monitor tracker, 65% of respondents reported a weekly decline in sales. This was as high as 81% in the second tracker. However, the decrease in the number of respondents reporting reduced weekly sales does not indicate recovery or an increase in customer demand. An analysis of the responses shows that the number of ‘decrease’ responses have gone down since the second tracker. During the same period, the number of ‘remain same’ responses have gone up whereas there is not much change in the number of ‘increase’ responses. This is evidence that GM businesses are not yet experiencing a general increase in customer demand. This also confirms that customer demand is not in free fall but appears to have stabilised, albeit as low levels.


 After the lockdown was imposed, there was a big increase in the number of people claiming unemployment support. This was reflected in the results of the Business Monitor.  In the first three weeks, the survey results showed that over half the respondents reported were intending to make reductions in their staff numbers. This has changed in the latest tracker results: nearly three-fourths expect no further changes to their workforce in the next week. Most employers appear to have already made decisions about furloughing staff or making other reductions in their workforce. The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has been very popular amongst businesses. As of 3rd May, over 800,000 claims covering 6 million workers had been made across the UK.

Cashflow Positions

Cash management and the lack of adequate cash reserves to meet normal outgoings have been a serious concern ever since COVID-19 response measures were implemented. The absolute majority of firms reported decreases in cash reserves in the last few weeks. Delayed payments, disruptions to supply chains and weaker demand pose additional cash flow challenges. The proportion of firms reporting cash flow problems was 66%, a worsening from the previous week. Working capital pressures are likely to be more acute for smaller businesses.

Of particular concern to many businesses will be the sustainability of their cash reserves. Data gathered via the British Chambers of Commerce COVID-19 tracker shows up to a fifth of GM businesses having cash reserves for less than one month, while another 32% have sufficient cash for up to three months. Those with larger cash reserves happen to be larger businesses. Smaller B2C businesses have been more affected than B2B businesses.

Business Confidence

 Falling demand, depleted cash reserves and supply chain disruptions have resulted in very low business confidence. With demand at historic lows and no clarity on when improvements in the public health situation could lead to a relaxation of the lockdown, many business leaders are worried about when the duration of the downturn and when recovery will set in. In last week’s survey, 42% the respondents reported not being confident at all about business prospects over the next three months while another 31% were not so confident.  Only 23% of respondents had some confidence in being able to maintain sales and turnover in the coming weeks.

Government support

Awareness of the various support measures announced by the UK government is very high. Even the recently announced Bounce Back Loans had good awareness amongst respondents (44%). Utilising support has, however, been hard for some businesses. The most popular scheme is the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which is vastly believed to have worked well with payments having been received within the six working days initially promised by Government. Firms reported numerous difficulties accessing debt financing under the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loans although the early response to the Business Bounce Back loans is encouraging. The 100% guarantee for small businesses is likely to have reassured banks about extending credit, while also addressing business demand for small loans.

The fifth weekly survey was conducted between 24th April and 1st May and captured the views of 77 businesses. The full report can be read here. The latest week’s survey is now open.

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