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Downturn in North West business activity slows in October

BUSINESS activity across the North West was down for a third straight month in October amid signs of weakness in demand, latest NatWest Regional PMI® survey data showed. Expectations among local firms towards future activity dipped slightly, though they remained more optimistic than most and even recorded a slight rise in employment. Rates of increase in business costs and prices charged meanwhile ticked up, coming off 3 year lows in September.

The headline North West PMI Business Activity Index; a seasonally adjusted index that measures the month-on-month change in the combined output of the Region’s manufacturing and service sectors; remained below the 50.0 no change threshold for a third straight month in October. However, following back-to-back readings of 47.2, the index rose to 48.5 to signal only a modest rate of decline that was the slowest in the current sequence.

The decline in new business across the North West private sector extended to a 6th straight month in October, signalling an ongoing slump in demand for the Region's goods and services. The rate of contraction was unchanged from the previous month and remained quicker than the UK wide average. Low customer confidence, cost of living pressures and high interest rates were some of the factors, hampering sales, according to surveyed businesses.

Firms in the North West generally remained optimistic about their growth prospects for the coming year in October, citing confidence around marketing plans and new product launches. Expectations nudged down slightly from September's 3 month high, bringing them broadly in line with the series long-run average (since 2012), though they remained the 3rd highest among the 12 monitored Regions and nations.

After falling in September for the first time in just over 2½ years, private sector employment across the North West returned to growth in October. Although only modest, the rise in workforce numbers in the Region contrasted with a further decline seen across the UK as a whole. Where an increase in staffing levels was recorded, surveyed firms remarked on efforts to increase capacity and preparations for future growth.

After hitting a three-year low in September, the rate of increase in business costs ticked up slightly in October. It nevertheless remained below its long run average and was one of the slowest among the 12 monitored Regions (ahead of only the West Midlands and Yorkshire and Humber). Declining manufacturing purchasing prices continued to contrast with wage- and energy driven costs increases in the service sector.

In line with a slightly faster increase in costs, the rate of inflation in average prices charged by businesses across the North West ticked up in October. The result marked the 1st acceleration in six months, although it left the rate of output price inflation still well below the UK wide average (which likewise quickened from the previous month). Price increases were centred on the service sector.

Malcolm Buchanan, Chair of NatWest North Regional Board, commented:- "The latest PMI survey signals that business conditions remain challenging, but also that there's a degree of resilience being shown by local firms. Demand continues to be constrained amidst a backdrop of economic uncertainty, cost of living pressures and high interest rates, which has led to a 3rd straight monthly decline in business activity. However, business confidence in the Region is more or less in line with its long run average and among the highest nationally, whilst local firms are still showing a willingness to take on new staff. Elsewhere, the survey's measures of business costs and output prices pointed to faster rates of inflation, likely reflecting the impact of the recent upturn in global oil prices."

Shop owners fined for underage vape sales

2 shop owners have been prosecuted for selling vapes to children, following a covert operation carried out by Liverpool City Council.

In February 2023, the Alcohol and Tobacco Unit received several complaints suggesting:- Easy Store, 51 to 55 Dale Street, Liverpool, was selling nicotine inhaling products to those aged under 18.

A visit was carried out to make them aware of the complaints, and a Council officer observed a number of young looking customers coming in and out attempting to purchase vapes.

Following this, the Council carried out a test purchase with an underage volunteer, who was sold a vape without asking for their age or ID. In May, the Council and Merseyside Police seized illegal vapes found on display in the premises. In June 2023, a staff member sold an illegal vape a to 15 year old volunteer.

Easy Store Owner Mohamad Abbar, of Chaucer Street, L20, pleaded guilty at:- Liverpool Magistrates Court, on Thursday, 2 November 2023, to 4 charges relating to underage sales at the city centre shop in February and June, and for selling/offering illegal vapes in:- May and June 2023.

Abbar has been ordered to pay a total of:- £3,157, made up of fines of:- £850 in relation to the underage sales, £500 for the illicit vapes, Council costs of £1,267 and a surcharge of £540.

Also prosecuted was:- Amjad Nazir, of Colebrooke Road in L17, for selling vapes to underage volunteers from:- Unit 76, at St John’s Market, in February and June 2023. He failed to attend Court and faces a total bill of:- £1,702, comprising a fine of £660, Council costs of:- £778 and a £264 surcharge.

Since April 2022, Liverpool City Council has seized over 36,000 illegal vapes with a street value of £432,000, and further prosecutions for underage sales are pending.

Councillor Harry Doyle, Cabinet Member for Public Health, said:- "Our Alcohol and Tobacco Unit are working closely with Merseyside Police and our Public Health colleagues to crackdown on shops supplying vapes to children, as well as illegal vaping products. This is just 1 of a number of prosecutions that we are bringing to Court, in addition to hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of illegal vapes we have seized. We would urge anyone who knows of a store that is selling these type of products to contact us so that we can investigate."

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