Business insights and impact on the UK economy: 6 May 2021

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic and other events on UK businesses and the economy. Based on responses from the voluntary fortnightly business survey (BICS) about financial performance, workforce, prices, trade, and business resilience.

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Cyswllt:
Email Jon Gough

Dyddiad y datganiad:
6 May 2021

Cyhoeddiad nesaf:
20 May 2021

1. Main points

  • The percentage of businesses currently trading has increased from 77% in mid-April to 83% in late April 2021.

  • The proportion of businesses' workforce on furlough leave has fallen from 17% in late March 2021 to 13% in mid-April 2021, as a result of coronavirus restrictions continuing to be relaxed across the UK.

  • The wholesale and retail trade industry expects the highest percentage of its workforce to return from furlough to the normal workplace in the next two weeks, at 29%.

  • Of businesses not permanently stopped trading, 24% intend to use increased homeworking as a permanent business model going forward, while 28% are not sure.

  • The main challenge reported by currently trading businesses for exporting and importing continues to be additional paperwork, at 37% and 42% respectively.

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2. Other pages in this release

More commentary on the impacts of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on the UK economy and society is available on the following pages:

More about economy, business and jobs

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3. Headline figures

The data presented here are final results from Wave 29 of the Business Insights and Conditions Survey (BICS), which was live for the period 19 April to 2 May 2021.

For questions regarding the last two weeks, businesses were asked for their experience for the reference period 5 to 18 April 2021.

For experimental single site weighted regional estimates up to Wave 26 (8 to 21 March 2021), please see Understanding the business impacts of local and national restrictions, UK: March 2021.

Figure 1: Headline figures from the Business Insights and Conditions Survey

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Notes

  1. Final weighted results, Wave 7 to Wave 29 of the Office for National Statistics' (ONS') Business Insights and Conditions Survey (BICS).
  2. Weighted estimates are available from Wave 7 onwards only. The sample redesign in Wave 7 improves our coverage for the small-sized businesses, allowing for weighted results to be truly reflective of all businesses.
  3. Data are plotted in the middle of the two-week period of each wave.
  4. Trading status: for presentational purposes, currently trading categories and paused trading categories have been combined.
  5. Financial performance: for presentational purposes, decreased turnover categories and increased turnover categories have been combined, and the option "Not sure" has been removed.
  6. Business resilience: for presentational purposes, cash reserves categories between zero and three months have been combined, and the option "Not sure" has been removed.
  7. Workforce: for presentational purposes, the options "On sick leave or not working because of coronavirus (COVID-19), self-isolation or quarantine", "Made permanently redundant" or "Other" have been removed.
  8. Financial performance and Workforce: Businesses were asked for their experiences for the reference period. However, for questions regarding the last two weeks, businesses may respond from the point of completion of the questionnaire.

The percentage of businesses currently trading has increased from 77% in mid-April to 83% in late April 2021. This compares with 84% of businesses currently trading in mid-December 2020 (before the introduction of new coronavirus restrictions), and 71% in early January 2021 when the national lockdowns were announced.

The following data are compared with normal expectations for this time of year:

  • the percentage of businesses experiencing a decrease in turnover is at 34% in mid-April 2021 - the lowest percentage recorded since comparable estimates began in June 2020

  • the percentage of businesses experiencing an increase in turnover is at 14% in mid-April 2021 - the highest percentage recorded since comparable estimates began in June 2020

The proportion of businesses' workforce on furlough leave has fallen from 17% in late March 2021 to 13% in mid-April 2021, as a result of coronavirus restrictions continuing to be relaxed across the UK. This is compared with 20% of businesses' workforce being on furlough in late January 2021.

The 13% of businesses' workforce on furlough leave in mid-April 2021 equates to approximately 3.3 million people. This number is based on multiplying the BICS weighted furlough proportions by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) CJRS official statistics eligible employments1 for only those industries covered by the BICS sample. 

The method of estimating the number of furloughed employees has been improved. Previously the estimate was calculated through multiplying the BICS weighted furlough proportions by the Inter-Departmental Business Register (IDBR) total annual employment and would have produced an estimate of 4.1 million. That IDBR employment total includes industries, most notably the public sector, which are not sampled in BICS and have had much lower furloughing rates. We have updated our method as the number of eligible employments is the population we are measuring against. 

Meanwhile, the proportion of businesses' workforce working remotely has fallen from 35% in mid-January 2021 to 31% in mid-April 2021.

Notes for: Headline figures

  1. An "employment" in the HMRC CJRS Official Statistics is defined as anyone who meets the scheme criteria set out within the published guidance, and data comes from the whole population of HMRC CJRS claims (those applied) and PAYE Real Time Information systems (RTIs). The assessment of whether a person was employed on the qualifying dates is based on the methodology used for the joint HMRC and ONS statistics release, Earnings and employment from Pay As You Earn Real Time Information.
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4. Working from home

Of businesses not permanently stopped trading, 24% intend to use increased homeworking as a permanent business model going forward, while 28% are not sure.

The information and communication industry and the professional, scientific and technical activities industry had the highest percentages of businesses intending to use increased homeworking as a permanent business model going forwards, at 49% and 43% respectively.

Full industry breakdowns of all questions regarding working from home can be found in the accompanying dataset.

Data on why a business does or does not intend to use increased homeworking as a permanent business model going forward is available in the accompanying dataset.

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5. Industry Insights

Trading status

The following data show the largest movements in the percentages of businesses currently trading from Wave 28 to Wave 29:

  • the other service activities industry (which includes hairdressing and other beauty treatment activities) has risen from 41% to 91%

  • the education industry (private sector and higher education businesses only) has risen from 60% to 79% - driven by sports and recreation education

  • the wholesale and retail trade industry has risen from 77% to 91%

  • the art, entertainment and recreation industry has risen from 66% to 78% - driven by sports clubs and visitor attractions (such as historical sites and botanic gardens and zoos)

  • the accommodation and food service activities industry has risen from 51% to 61%

It should be noted that the definition of currently trading used within Business Insights and Conditions Survey (BICS) refers to the business currently trading in any capacity. It does not cover whether a business has completely reopened to trading at full capacity, experienced before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic or if the business is operating at a reduced level of capacity but it still trading.

Financial performance

The following data show the largest movements in the percentages of businesses experiencing a decrease in turnover, compared with normal expectations for this time of year, from Wave 28 to Wave 29:

  • the other service activities industry (which includes hairdressing and other beauty treatment activities) has fallen from 45% to 36%

  • the wholesale and retail trade industry has fallen from 37% to 33%

  • the accommodation and food service activities industry has fallen from 64% to 61%

The following data show the largest movements in the percentages of businesses experiencing an increase in turnover, compared with normal expectations for this time of year, from Wave 28 to Wave 29:

  • the other service activities industry (which includes hairdressing and other beauty treatment activities) has risen from 15% to 27%

  • the accommodation and food service activities industry has risen from 13% to 17%

  • the wholesale and retail trade industry has risen from 19% to 22%

Workforce

The following data show the largest movements in the proportions of businesses' workforce on furlough leave from Wave 28 to Wave 29:

  • the art, entertainment and recreation industry has fallen from 53% to 40% - driven by fitness and sport facilities, amusement and theme parks, and visitor attractions (such as museums, historical sites, and botanic gardens and zoos)

  • the wholesale and retail trade industry has fallen from 21% to 11%

  • the other service activities industry (which includes hairdressing and other beauty treatment activities) has fallen from 29% to 22%

  • the accommodation and food service activities industry has fallen from 45% to 38%

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6. Exporting and importing challenges

Of currently trading businesses, 10% had exported and 11% had imported in the last 12 months and reported how their exporting or importing compared with normal expectations for this time of year. These businesses were then asked about the challenges they had experienced with exporting or importing in the last two weeks.

Table 6 compares how the most common exporting and importing challenges differ between smaller businesses (fewer than 250 employees) and larger businesses (250 or more employees).

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7. Business Insights and Conditions data

Business insights and impact on the UK economy
Dataset | Released 6 May 2021
Weighted estimates from the voluntary fortnightly business survey (BICS) about financial performance, workforce, prices, trade, and business resilience.

This dataset includes additional information collected as part of the survey not presented in this publication.

These data are not official statistics but have been developed to deliver timely indicators to help understand the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and other events in a timely way.

Access to microdata

The BICS microdata for Waves 1 to 28 can now be accessed via the Secure Research Service (SRS). The BICS microdata for each wave are released on a rolling basis in the week following the publication of each wave.

The microdata are confidentialised and do not disclose any specific business.

Only researchers accredited under the Digital Economy Act are able to access data in the SRS. You can apply for accreditation through the Research Accreditation Service (RAS). You need to have relevant academic or work experience and must successfully attend and complete the assessed Safe Researcher Training.

To conduct analysis with microdata from the SRS, a project application must be submitted to the Research Accreditation Panel (RAP). To access the SRS, you must also work for an organisation with an Assured Organisational Connectivity agreement in place.

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8. Glossary

Coronavirus

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause disease in people and animals. They can cause the common cold or more severe diseases, such as COVID-19.

COVID-19

COVID-19 is the name used to refer to the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which is a type of coronavirus. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) takes COVID-19 to mean presence of SARS-CoV-2 with or without symptoms.

EU exit transition period

The EU exit transition is the period agreed in the UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement in which the UK is no longer a member of the EU but continues to be subject to EU rules and remains a member of the single market and customs union. When the UK left the EU on 31 January 2020, it entered the transition period. The transition period came to an end on 31 December 2020.

Furlough

Furlough is a temporary absence from work allowing workers to keep their job while the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues.

Reporting unit

The business unit to which questionnaires are sent is called the reporting unit. The response from the reporting unit can cover the enterprise as a whole or parts of the enterprise identified by lists of local units.

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9. Measuring the data

The Business Insights and Conditions Survey (BICS) is voluntary and the results are experimental.

The results are based on responses from the voluntary fortnightly BICS, which captures businesses' views on financial performance, workforce, prices, trade, and business resilience. The Wave 29 survey was live for the period 19 April to 2 May 2021. For questions regarding the last two weeks, businesses were asked for their experience for the reference period 5 to 18 April 2021. The survey questions are available.

Coverage

The Monthly Business Survey (MBS) covers the UK for production and only Great Britain for services. The RSI and Construction are Great Britain-focused. Therefore, the BICS will be UK for production-based industries but Great Britain for the other elements of the economy covered.

The industries covered are:

  • non-financial services (includes professional, scientific, communication, administrative, transport, accommodation and food, private health and education, and entertainment services)

  • distribution (includes retail, wholesale and motor trades)

  • production (includes manufacturing, oil and gas extraction, energy generation and supply, and water and waste management)

  • construction (includes civil engineering, housebuilding, property development and specialised construction trades such as plumbers, electricians and plasterers)

The following industries are excluded from the survey:

  • agriculture

  • public administration and defence

  • public provision of education and health

  • finance and insurance

For more information on the methodology of producing the Business Insights and Conditions Survey (such as weighting), please see the previous bulletin.

The Quality and Methodology Information documentation for BICS is due to be published on 20 May 2021.

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