TRADING restrictions, lockdowns and growing uncertainties about the future are taking their toll on the economy, a survey by Shropshire Chamber of Commerce has revealed.

The Chamber has published the results of its latest Quarterly Economic Survey, covering the final three months of 2020, and it shows that, although the overall economy saw a slight improvement on the previous quarter, Shropshire companies remain hugely concerned over cashflow – and increasingly worried about future tax rises.

Richard Sheehan, Shropshire Chamber of Commerce’s chief executive, said the chance of a recovery from a vaccine has helped lift the spirits but with more bad news on the horizon, feels there are issues.

“It is simply impossible to predict the future at this time, but during this survey the news of an extension of furlough to March, and a vaccine, clearly lifted spirits," he said.

“However, this was tempered by the second lockdown, further redundancies and a rise in Covid-19 cases across the county.”

The survey showed a recovery in both domestic and export sales across Shropshire in the fourth quarter of 2020, but the number of companies expecting UK sales to fall still exceeds those predicting a rise.

More than 60 per cent of companies expect staffing levels to remain the same over the coming months, compared with around 15 per cent which are warning of imminent redundancies.

Skills shortages remain a big issue in Shropshire, and the survey asked companies to identify barriers which stop people coming to work in the county.

Among the most cited issues were low average wages, bigger organisations giving work to overseas staff instead of hiring locally, and the county’s proximity to rival cities such as Birmingham and Manchester.

Mr Sheehan added: “Both confidence in profitability and turnover dropped back again from the previous quarter. The second lockdown reinforced the uncertainty of the future and with Brexit making news again it has taken its toll on confidence.

“Confidence is traditionally always higher than sales reality shows. Taxation is the greatest worry by far, followed by competition – which is understandable in a shrinking marketplace.”

The survey has been capturing data about the health of the Shropshire economy as far back as 2009.

Ruth Ross, Shropshire Chamber’s director of business, said: “Shropshire Chamber takes part in the British Chambers of Commerce national economic survey each quarter.

“The data which is collected is used both locally and nationally to lobby those in power on the main topics of concern.

“The national survey is highly respected and is used by the Government to understand the economic situation and pressures facing businesses in the UK.

“The greater our business voice, the more valuable the information becomes, so we want to encourage every business – Chamber member or not – to add their voice to these vital surveys.

“The survey is open to any size of business, from micros who employ no staff, to the very largest businesses.”