There is not likely to be any let-up in the economic crisis this year, according to the Birmingham Post Business Survey.
More than 80 per cent of the businessmen, professionals and workers who answered the survey said they were not confident of seeing any positive signs in 2009.
While about three-quarters rated 2008 as a difficult or very difficult year to do business in, the outlook for 2009 was even gloomier, with plummeting consumer demand identified as a major issue.
Just under 60 per cent of the people who took the survey identified the drop in customer demand as the biggest factor facing them this year, with access to finance and the need to be sustainable making up the top three list.
The survey, which was carried out before Christmas, took in results from across the West Midlands, in an array of different sectors.
The picture was bleak across almost all sectors. One respondent, from a small retail business, described the downturn as “the worst ever financial disaster in the UK in living memory”.
Another worker in the catering industry said there had been a very sudden downturn in confidence recently.
And Paul Farrow, of the Birmingham Law Society, who took the survey, said: “2008 has displayed a reduction in recruitment activity and in training expenditure, two areas of our activities. There is concern as to when demand will pick up again; expectations are now towards the end of 2009 at the earliest.”
He said the government needed to provide “focused help to key areas for the long-term future of the economy, including manufacturing, key service sectors and agriculture.
And pressure on the banks to free up credit to those key sectors.”
Pressure on the banks seemed to be a key part of what a large proportion of people wanted from the government, with cash-flow problems from reticent banks making life tough even for firms that had not been too badly hit by the drop in consumer demand and confidence.
Steve Wall, of Birmingham-based Central Communication Services, said: “Money has been scarce. Banks have been reticent to make money available and customers have been holding on to their money for longer.
Government should force the banks to be more ready to lend.”
The last year had been tough for the construction industry.
But one respondent at a medium-sized firm said they expected 2009 to be the difficult year. “2008 has not been a bad year, growth has been restricted due to the market downturn,” he said. “The major concern for 2009 is the uncertainty of market conditions.”
But there were some more optimistic voices. One employee of Birmingham City Council said: “As a former business owner I don’t feel that the recession is a fraction as bad as those experienced in the 1980s and 90s.”
He said there needed to be “less panic and more sense”, from politicians, adding: “Don’t encourage people to borrow more as this is one of the causes of our current problems; keep a tighter rein on public money and recognise that continued growth may not always be possible.”