The findings, from a survey carried out by ComRes for the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), also show that a majority of Britons believe local businesses play an important role in local communities (73%). Nearly half (46%) believe new or international companies will generate economic growth here in the UK, compared to only 20% saying this will come from government. It also shows they are not particularly optimistic about the future. Only 14% think the economy will improve in the next 12 months, and the majority (67%) believe unemployment will get worse.
The research is part of the business group’s Business is Good for Britain campaign, which is being launched today (1st February) in Central London. The campaign highlights the role of business as a positive force for the UK recovery, success of local communities and individuals.
How the public views business
• 82% of respondents believe businesses that comply with the law, pay their taxes and make a profit are good businesses (65% still believe this is the case no matter what sector they are in).
• 73% agreed that local businesses play an important role in their local community. Chambers of Commerce believe businesses are at the foundation of their local communities and help to create the wealth which allows them to thrive.
• More than two-thirds of those surveyed (72%) believe that a company’s first priority should be their employees, while only 29% believe it should be to their owners and shareholders. This highlights tension between different business objectives, with the public clearly less favourable toward business profits than to provision of employment.
• Only 31% believe the public sector is better than the private sector at delivering economic growth and jobs, suggesting that most of the British public support the view that the private sector is the UK’s real ‘economic engine’.
• Worryingly, 59% agreed with the statement ‘the UK is no longer a major trading nation’. In fact, the UK is the world's third-largest exporter of services and tenth-largest exporter of manufactured goods*.
• The majority of people (54%) believe ‘businesses make a fair contribution to supporting public services’ – although for people aged between 18-34 this dips to 47%. This suggests younger people are more disillusioned with the business community.
The public’s prediction for economic growth and how they see businesses’ future role
• 79% of respondents believe creating new jobs should be a high priority for UK firms, compared to generating a profit (43%).
• Nearly half (46%) said new companies and international companies will generate economic growth, while only 20% believed this would come from central government. This result suggests that future government actions must focus on supporting and empowering business growth.
• Only 14% of people expect the economy to improve over the course of 2012. This underscores the need to persevere with measures to stimulate business growth, while reducing the deficit.
• The majority expect unemployment to get worse (67%), with only 7% expecting improvement. This is in line with the BCC’s latest economic forecast which predicts unemployment will reach 2.77m by the end of this year.
Commenting on the findings, John Longworth, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said:
“Businesses up and down the country are doing their utmost to find new markets and grow their firms, despite the difficult economic challenges they face. The British public is savvy and recognises that business is a force for good. They are the ones that live and work in business every day. But it is those in government, the policymakers and the commentators that we need to convince.
“Business is at the centre of the economy, and only the private sector will drive recovery and help deliver public services, like education, healthcare and pensions. It is the foundation of local communities, creating the wealth that helps them thrive, providing hard-working people with purpose and self respect, and employment and training for those that want to learn. More than two-thirds of people said the private sector is better at delivering growth than the public sector. While the public sector has a vital role to play, the private sector is our real economic engine.
“It is worrying though, that more than half said Britain is no longer a major trading nation. There are thousands of fantastic companies in this country, both in manufacturing and services that bust this myth. And there are thousands of others who have products ready for the export market, but they need support and encouragement to break into new markets and boost their orders overseas.
“The British public thinks job creation should be a high priority for UK businesses. But businesses can’t do this alone. The government must create the best possible environment to allow firms to grow. Cutting burdensome red tape and implementing its promised credit easing measures would give companies the confidence they need to take on more staff.
“What's more, it is concerning that many members of the public seem to think that profit should not be one of business's top priorities. But without profits, businesses can't generate employment, pay more in tax, or expand into new markets. Profit and success are an essential part of enterprise and our future prospects."
Commenting on the BCC’s Business is Good for Britain campaign, David Cameron, Prime Minister, said:
“Britain's history is built on having some of the most innovative, dynamic and creative businesses in the world. Their success is crucial for this country’s future so I want this to be the year we really get behind them, with more people starting and growing their businesses. They are the engines of new job creation and economic growth that this country depends upon."