North East entrepreneurs remain optimistic about the future despite revealing a lack of confidence in the economy, the latest Entrepreneurs’ Forum survey has shown.

The survey, which took place just prior to the mini budget, and was completed by 95 North East entrepreneurs, revealed 78% of respondents felt unsure or not confident with the current state of the economy.

Respondents cited the longer term effects of COVID, rising inflation, tight labour markets and disrupted supply chains as the major challenges which they are currently faced with. Lack of clarity about the policies the new government would adopt was also a concern.

Despite this economic uncertainty, over half of respondents (53%) reported feeling more optimistic for the next 12 months compared to the previous year, with only 14% of those asked feeling less optimistic about the coming year.

Across the responses, some explained that they have invested in their businesses to capitalise on opportunities arising in a post COVID world. Of those who completed the survey, 38% currently export and these members saw opportunity in the return to international travel following the removal of COVID restrictions.

The survey also analysed business performance for the previous year.

69% of respondents reported an increase in sales and a further 52% noted an increase in profit. Total employee numbers (54%) also increased despite new concerns over recruitment and retention.

When asked about immediate challenges members are expected to face in the next business quarter, most reported their biggest barrier was recruitment and retention of staff with many businesses across the region already struggling to recruit the right calibre of candidates with desirable skills or talent.

As a result, an ‘Addressing the Employment Crisis’ panel has been added to the line-up for the Forum’s autumn conference, Together We Can Take on the World.

Panellists, including Mike O’Brien from Opencast, will share their tips on how they recruit and retain talent including employee share ownership schemes, 4 day working weeks and apprenticeship programmes.

Elaine Stroud, CEO of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum, said: “Despite the economic challenges, it’s reassuring to hear that the majority of our members remain optimistic about their own business prospects for the coming 12 months. However, it is concerning that opportunities may be missed if businesses can’t find the right talent to fill vacancies.

“Entrepreneurs won’t sit back and wait for government measures to address the tight labour markets. They must seek new ways of bringing and retaining talent in their businesses. It can be done as demonstrated by our recently crowned Entrepreneur of the Year Mike O’Brien from Opencast who’s succeeded in building a workforce of over 300 from his Newcastle HQ.

“We will continue to showcase the entrepreneurs that pioneer practices to help address labour shortages in order to inspire others with ideas to take back to their own businesses.”

Delivered in partnership with Agilico, Together We Can Take on the World will take place Thursday 17th November, 8am – 5pm at Hilton Newcastle Gateshead and is expected to welcome over 300 business leaders on the day.

It is supported by Guerilla, LUMO, Wander Films and British Business Bank.

The Entrepreneurs’ Forum represents over 300 North East entrepreneurs from every sector. Its members collectively turnover in excess of £1 billion and employ over 10,000 workers.