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30 December 2002

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Local directors more optimistic about economic prospects


Company directors in Cambridge and southern Cambridgeshire are more optimistic now about the prospects for their businesses than they were three months ago, according to the latest survey of business opinion from the Institute of Directors (IoD). Directors in Peterborough and the north of Cambridgeshire are now less optimistic than they were in the summer - but are still much more bullish than the national average.

Overall across the UK the level of optimism - expressed as the difference between directors feeling more optimistic now than they were three months ago and those feeling less optimistic - stands at 23 per cent in the latest survey. However, the Southern survey region (which includes Cambridge and the south of the county) has an optimism figure of 26 per cent and the figure for the Midlands region which includes Peterborough and the north of Cambridgeshire is a relatively impressive 27 per cent.

Three months ago the figures stood at 23 per cent in the South and 32 per cent in the Midlands.

Stephanie Smye, chairman of the IoD Eastern Branch which represents almost 1,000 company directors throughout Cambridgeshire, said: "After a brief rally in the summer national business optimism is now falling again, continuing the trend that lasted throughout 2000 and early 2001. The fact that our local figures are better than the national average - and even increasing in the south of Cambridgeshire - is encouraging."

Despite the mixed views about the future, the survey shows that more firms in both Peterborough and Cambridge are now working at full capacity then they were three months ago. Capacity utilisation (measured as the balance between firms operating at full capacity and those operating at less than this) has risen from -12 per cent to just -2 per cent in the Peterborough survey region and from -24 per cent to -10 per cent in the Cambridge survey region.

The balance of firms with full order books in the region which includes Cambridge has risen from 2 per cent three months ago to an impressive 12 per cent - the highest of any UK region - while that of firms in the region which includes Peterborough has fallen from 11 per cent to 9 per cent.

This has fed through into employment, with a balance of 32 per cent of firms in the Southern (Cambridge) region saying they are employing more people now than they were three months ago. The figure for the Midlands (Peterborough) region is 26 per cent.

Miss Smye said: "The economy in this area seems relatively buoyant. Most directors are cautious or even nervous about the future but, with a few exceptions, their firms are currently busy. Some, like my own company, are recruiting additional staff and continuing to invest in new technology.

"There may be a difficult few months ahead on the economic front but we should be aware of the danger of talking ourselves into a recession. Our economic future is largely in our own hands."

November 2001

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