ST HELENS businesses saw an upturn in performance in the final quarter of 2018, says the latest economic survey.

The St Helens Quarterly Economic Survey says there was "a very welcome rebound" for businesses, with sales and advance orders improving for both manufacturers and service firms.

UK and export sales for both sectors have risen, due to the effect "of a weak pound, or the resilience of our local businesses" and as a result, employment has grown too.

Key findings include advance orders for manufacturers moving strongly back into positive figures, with a 29 per cent balance change. This marks a "substantially improved" situation from the previous quarter when a significant negative was reported. 

Also, 29 per cent of manufacturers are now operating at full capacity, very similar to the second quarter of last year.

Meanwhile, 25 per cent of manufacturers expect to increase investment in plant and machinery in the next three months, an increase from the 10 per cent in the third quarter of 2018.

And 58 per cent of manufacturers are confident turnover will increase in the next 12 months, a very significant increase from the 15 per cent of the previous quarter.

Looking ahead, 42 per cent of manufacturers are confident that profitability will increase in the next 12 months, a very significant increase from the outlook in Q3.

Manufacturers, in particular, anticipate an increase in employment in the early part of 2019 with 25 per cent of respondents saying they plan to grow their headcount.

However, 73 per cent of manufacturing firms who attempted to recruit experienced difficulties in finding skilled manual and technical staff, with 66 per cent of services firms also struggling to fill that category of recruitment, and 32 per cent reporting difficulty filling professional/managerial vacancies.

Tracy Mawson, deputy chief executive at St Helens Chamber, said: “We are delighted to see a stronger quarter for St Helens firms, after worrying trends in Q3. Confidence around turnover, profitability, and recruitment plans has increased, and this is great news for the borough’s economy.

“Cost pressures and recruitment requirements may act as a brake, but we look to support firms with their growth as much as possible, including training staff to drive up productivity.

“2019 will be an eventful year and nationally the results are mixed. In the New Year the government must demonstrate that it is ready to deliver on business issues including recruitment of a suitable workforce.”