The grimmest set of figures since records began underline the decline in all sectors of business across the West Midlands in the first three months of this year.
A report out today from West Midlands Chambers of Commerce (WMCC) shows that both the manufacturing and service sectors have suffered huge drops in home sales and orders.
And there was little to cheer in export markets with over half showing a decrease in sales and orders. The service sector was struggling in the face of increasing competition.
Simon Topman, chairman of the WMCC and managing director of Acme Whistles, a Birmingham manufacturing company, said: “These are extremely depressing figures and they present in stark reality the depth of the global recession.
“The figures are the worst I have seen in 25 years of business. The export drive that was to come with the crashing pound has stalled before it even got on the road.”
Despite the gloomy picture presented by the survey, however, Mr Topman said there were “areas of stability on which we can build”.
The Chambers will keep up pressure on the Government to give strategic help to the region and work with local authorities to offset some of the effects of the recession.
He went on to say: “This region has shown a fighting spirit through set-backs in the past and we must be optimistic about the future.
“Never has it been more important for businesses to share survival techniques and prepare to rebuild.
“The British Chambers’ National Convention entitled ‘The Road to Recovery’ is in the region on April 27 and West Midland business must be there in strength to take advantage of the many-faceted approaches it will offer.
“The Chambers can see, even in these results, some signs of stability. Our members’ strengths, innovative skills and know-how that have made this region famous, remain undiminished.”
The survey, which covers 13,500 companies ranging from international groups to small concerns, shows that among manufacturers there has been an increase of 40 per cent to 68 per cent in the number of businesses reporting a decrease in domestic sales – the highest figure since records began in the Seventies.
And 54 per cent of companies reported a decrease in export sales, compared with 35 per cent in the previous quarter. Forward orders in the export market depict a similar outlook.
“This emphasises the weakness in demand,” Mr Topman said.
“This has led to a sharp reduction in stock levels. In manufacturing, the export market has deteriorated severely which highlights the fact that the recession is global. Weakness in world demand has outweighed any gains to competitiveness arising from sterling’s depreciation.
“This has made British exports more affordable but it appears that sterling’s weakness is being offset by the wider economic crisis.”
In services, the export market has remained relatively stable but still in need of boost. Thirty-six per cent, the same as the final quarter of 2008, reported a decrease in export sales over the past three months. The percentage of service sector firms which are exporting remained at 25.
In both sectors there has been a slight increase in the number of firms scaling back their plans to invest in equipment and training.
The proportion of manufacturers cutting back on training has risen by six points to 24 per cent because of falling workforces combined with falling profits and cash flow.
There has been an increase in firms reporting a decrease in their workforce over the past three months but a number have cut their average working hours to stave off redundancy. In manufacturing, 40 per cent of respondents stated that their workforce had decreased in the past three months, which is the highest since records began.
The service sector continues to cite competition as its main concern, making it difficult to retain customers who simply have more choice. Half of respondents reported a decrease in sales.