COVID-19 has become biggest concern for 81% of UK businesses, says new survey

Professor Paul Mizen
COVID-19 has eclipsed Brexit as the biggest worry for UK businesses, according to new figures from the University of Nottingham.

The new data shows that 81% of UK businesses reported that COVID-19 is currently one of the top three sources of uncertainty for their business. By comparison, firms reporting that Brexit was an important source of uncertainty for their business fell from 44% in February to 36% in March.

The findings are based on interviews with over 8,000 CEOs and CFOs who participate in the Decision Maker Panel (DMP), set up in August 2016 by the University of Nottingham, in collaboration with the Bank of England and Stanford University, to assess the impact of Brexit on businesses with ten or more employees.

It is now one of the largest regular business surveys and receives thousands of responses from business leaders every month.

The data from the DMP released today shows that less than two months ago the main source of uncertainty for UK businesses, was Brexit and the likely trade deal that would emerge between the UK and the EU by the end of the year. Remarkably, the latest results from the March online DMP survey, Brexit has been eclipsed by the uncertainty surrounding Coronavirus (COVID-19).

The data also shows that firms surveyed indicated that on average the chances of a negative impact was estimated at 71% – split more or less evenly between a large impact of more than 10% and a smaller negative impact of less than 10%.

The impact of COVID-19 progressively affected sales of UK businesses through March. The firms that were most heavily impacted were accommodation & food, leisure & tourism and transport & storage, which had attached a higher probability to a large negative impact on sales (-10%) over the next year. Looking at all the responses from the survey as a whole 40% of firms reported a large negative impact on sales.

The survey was carried out between 6 to 20 March. During this period, the cumulative number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the UK rose from 160 to about 4,000 and many new measures were announced to try to tackle the spread of the virus. The average probability attached to a large negative impact on sales rose from 25% at the start of survey window to almost 60% at the end, showing the developing impact of COVID-19 through the month of March.

Professor Paul Mizen, from the School of Economics at the University of Nottingham, and principal investigator for the project, says: “The value of the regular online Decision Maker Panel survey of UK businesses is demonstrated by its ability to respond quickly to sudden shocks like COVID-19 and to give an accurate measure of the impact on sales due to increased economic uncertainty.

“Our results, released today, show that COVID-19 is the largest source of uncertainty for UK businesses, eclipsing Brexit, and that the impact is expected to have a large negative effect on sales revenues across the board. Some businesses in sectors such as accommodation & food, leisure & tourism and transport & storage were evidently more exposed and understandably attached a higher probability to large negative effects over the next year.

“The findings confirm in fine detail – sector by sector – some of the indications provided from other sources that UK business activity has been plunging due to the virus. The UK government and the Bank of England have responded quickly to tackle the effects of the COVID-19 shock, and according to the latest results of the Decision Maker Panel survey, these support measures are likely to be welcome and necessary.”