Survey finds businesses remain resilient despite economic challenges

10 January 2022

Today [10 January 2022], the South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership (SEMLEP) publishes the results of the 2021 Business Survey, identifying the economic challenges and opportunities facing businesses in Milton Keynes, Northamptonshire, and Bedfordshire.

The biennial survey, conducted over October and November 2021, engaged with over 1,800 local businesses to identify economic issues and opportunities to support the growth of local businesses and the local economy. The key trends identified include:

Business Location: The South East Midlands continues to be rated increasingly highly as a place to do businesses, with various aspects presenting positive opportunities to attract inward investment.

  • 75% of businesses rated the South East Midlands region as a ‘good’ or ‘very good’ place to do business (69% in 2019).

Business Performance: remains challenging, clearly impacted by the pandemic, but there is optimism about the future.

  • 26% of businesses said performance had improved over the past 12 months (40% in 2019) while 34% said it had deteriorated (20% in 2019)
  • Over the coming year, businesses are more likely to expect improvements than further deterioration (40% vs. 15%).

Vacancies, skills shortages and skills gaps: Skills are a key issue for local businesses and a lack of skilled labour remains one of the top constraints on growth, although skills gaps have reduced with an investment in existing staff.

  • 28% of businesses had vacancies in the last 12 months (39% in 2019)
  • 17% had hard-to-fill vacancies (18% in 2019)
  • 16% reported skills gaps amongst current staff (25% in 2019)
  • 7% have an apprentice (12% in 2019)

Innovation, the green agenda and inclusive recruitment are all issues that have significant scope for future development

  • 21% of businesses innovated in the last 12 months (26% in 2019)
  • 46% of businesses have the intention of being more sustainable, but only 11% have a specific target or aim to achieve net-zero
  • 27% of businesses are actively adopting inclusive recruitment practices

The findings of the survey will now be used to help inform and shape economic strategies and development activities over the coming year.

Hilary Chipping, Chief Executive of SEMLEP, commented: “Whilst it can come as no surprise that the business environment remains challenging, many businesses are dealing with multiple, long-term obstacles, it’s pleasing to see strong economic resilience and a positive outlook coming through.

“As we head into 2022, we’re optimistic about what’s to come for the local business community. By delivering a wide range of business support, grants and skills programmes, we continue in our efforts to create and grow the environment for greater economic opportunity.”

Claire Ackroyd, Senior Economic Analyst at SEMLEP adds, “The SEMLEP Business Survey is an important tool in helping us to gather business information needed to inform support and investment needs. The findings of this survey particularly will help us to map the response of businesses to economic shocks, providing us and our local authority partners with important data to shape future strategies.  Thank you to every business that has participated.”

The full SEMLEP 2021 Business Survey is available to view online at The previous survey was in 2019 and this was the sixth business survey conducted by SEMLEP since 2013.