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February 25, 2011

London firms looking up despite lingering downturn, survey finds

Almost three-quarters of London businesses are still “feeling the pain of the recession”, but more are preparing for growth than a year ago, a survey has found, writes Simon Wicks.

According to Business Link in London’s annual Business Confidence Index, it is taking longer for London firms to recover from recession than expected. Some 72 per cent – around the same as reported this time last year – are continuing to struggle with slow customer spending and economic uncertainty.

Yet, the report concludes, there are reasons for optimism. Of the 3,000 businesses questioned in October and November last year, almost four in five cited growth as a priority, and more than one in four were planning to introduce new products.

“The findings indicate that London business owners are feeling positive and gaining confidence,” said Business Link in London’s operations director, Andy Berrow. “Overall, we’re seeing far more strategic decisions coming from the small and medium-sized business community to try and counter the way the recession affects their business.”

The survey found that hospitality businesses, in particular, were struggling with reduced spending. Some 46 per cent of hospitality firms said this was an issue, compared to a London business average of 26 per cent.

Anna Venturi, founder of Venturi’s Table which runs cookery-based events for busy professionals, agreed with the findings. “There’s some optimism, definitely, but it’s still quite tough,” she said. “We have more bookings and more repeat business, whereas before people were saying ‘We’d like to come back, but we’ve been told we can’t spend any money’.”

In addition, more than half of London businesses admitted to having no marketing strategy. “This is a key issue,” said Berrow. “Having a specific plan in place can certainly help business to grow and give owners that vital competitive edge.”

Berrow also noted that fewer firms were putting investment plans on hold, in spite of the VAT rise and reduced consumer spending.

Venturi said she had dealt with “fierce” competition in her market by focusing on product quality and contacting past customers. “I’m thinking about investment in the business, but I haven’t made a decision yet,” she added. “I want to see the end of my financial year first and see how we’re doing.”