Hiring intentions and business confidence saw declines across both the services and manufacturing sectors in July with economic growth set to slow, according to the latest Business Trends report from accountancy and business advisory firm, BDO.

BDO’s Employment Index fell for the first time in six months as businesses reduced vacancies whilst battling higher interest rates, weak global demand, and ongoing supply difficulties. The number of vacancies fell by 85,000 in Q2, while pay growth cooled.

This drop comes alongside a more pessimistic business outlook, highlighted by BDO’s Optimism Index falling in July for the first time in four months.

The 0.78-point downturn was driven by negative sentiment among manufacturers, who have been particularly exposed to elevated borrowing costs. These headwinds saw manufacturing optimism stand at 93.56, a fourth consecutive month below the crucial 95-point mark which divides expansion from contraction.

Whilst services optimism also declined by 1.10 point to 99.57 in July, the sub-index remains above the 95-point mark, indicating net-optimism across the sector despite the weaker reading. Further declines in both optimism and employment are expected with threats of a recession looming for Q4 and early 2024. 

BDO’s Output Index revealed starkly contrasting stories for the manufacturing and services sectors. Manufacturing output dropped sharply to 77.26 – its weakest reading since May 2020, when the sector was curtailed by the first national COVID-19 lockdown.

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However, a 5.22-point pick up in services output drove an overall improvement of the headline index to 96.15 in July. Output now remains just above the 95-point of contraction, indicating marginal growth.

July saw BDO’s Inflation Index fall by 2.72-points to stand at 100.96, its lowest reading in over two years. This decline is expected to mirror slows in consumer inflation driven by a drop in energy prices following Ofgem’s lower price cap. A fall was also observed in input price inflation reaching 91.01 reflecting the dropping prices in global commodity markets.

Responding to the news, FundMyPitch CEO, Steven Mooney, said: “It’s clear that soaring interest rates are spooking business owners into reducing costs at a time when the country is crying out for growth.

Mooney continued: “Entrepreneurs are also struggling to get access to the funding and support they need to make critical investments in staff and business development. It’s absurd that organisations which provide the vast majority of employment for UK PLC are not being given the platforms they need to catch the eye of investors and unleash their true potential. By backing the next generation of up-and-coming companies, we can reboot Britain’s economy and boost confidence during an increasingly uncertain time.”

Tech consultancy firm VeUP director, Josh Boer, said: “SMEs are the lifeblood of the UK economy, creating jobs, spreading opportunity, and enabling growth. Far too many companies with big ambitions and exciting products and services are being left out in the cold when it comes to securing financial backing.

“If we want to reboot the economy and kickstart growth, we need to get behind the next generation of entrepreneurs, equipping them with the skills, technology, and funding to thrive, despite the turbulent economic outlook,” he added.

DKK Partners co-founder, Khalid Talukder, added, “With business optimism wobbling and companies feeling the pinch due to soaring interest rates, it’s more important than ever for organisations to seek fresh opportunities to drive revenue. So many business owners are keen on boosting exports, entering new markets, and accelerating international trade but lack the payments infrastructure to operate effectively.

“But overhauling existing systems and embracing fresh trading opportunities, we can successfully re-energise Britain’s businesses and look forward to a positive road ahead,” said Talukder.

BDO partner, Kaley Crossthwaite, concluded: “A more pessimistic outlook from businesses and consequent loosening of the labour market are the first indicators of the slow in economic growth expected towards the end of the year.

“With yet another hike in interest rates from the Bank of England last week, this downturn is only set to worsen in what should be a golden quarter for many, if more isn’t done to support businesses. To reverse these trends, Government needs to work more closely with industry to ensure firms of all sizes have tailored support in order to weather the storm, invest and grow.”