12 April 2022
Authors: Office for National Statistics
Date: August 2020
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) Business Insights and Conditions Survey (BICS) (formerly the Business Impact of COVID-19 Survey) was rapidly implemented in March 2020, in response to the pandemic. During a time of great uncertainty, it was essential to provide quick and coherent data on the impact of the pandemic for real-time use to support decision making. More recently, BICS has evolved to collect information on wider policy areas, including Brexit, worker shortages, and Net Zero.
BICS is a voluntary fortnightly business survey, collecting data on turnover, workforce, prices and trade, which has enabled insights around these business dynamics. The micro-data approach through the ONS’ Secure Research Service (SRS) has allowed accredited researchers to use BICS data to address of detailed, user-specific policy questions.
BICS collects data from UK businesses registered for VAT and/or Pay As You Earn, from various sectors and regions - approximately 2.2 million potential respondents.
Typical BICS questions include enquiries into:
- supply chains
- trading status
- financials (e.g., turnover and profit)
- prices of goods or services
The fortnightly survey samples approximately 39,000 businesses of various sizes representing a cross-section of UK industry and the economy. These include commodity production firms, construction, distribution, and non-financial services providers. Industries excluded from the BICS are agriculture, public administration, defence, finance and insurance, and public provision of health and education services.
The BICS uses an agile approach to collect real-time information on relevant issues impacting UK businesses and the economy. The survey regularly undergoes updates, with questions added, amended, or removed.
BICS results are weighted (from June 2020) to provide an estimate of how all businesses have been impacted from the start of the pandemic through to today, facilitating comparison of results across time.
The ONS’ Business insights and impact on the UK economy publication uses BICS data to provide regular insights on the impact of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic and other events on UK businesses and the economy. Findings include:
- the percentage of businesses currently trading was 89%, up from 71% in January 2021;
- the proportion of the UK workforce on full or partial furlough leave fell from 19.9% in January 2021 to 3.7% in late July 2021;
- the percentage of businesses reporting a decreased turnover declined from 65% in June 2020, to 29% in late July 2021;
- 26% of businesses reported increases costs for materials, goods or services;
- 8% of businesses reported increasing their prices of goods or services sold;
- 9% of business reported increased challenges in filling vacancies, with three-quarters of businesses reporting a lack of suitable applicants, and;
- 1 in 50 businesses were expecting to make redundancies in the next three months (top reasons included a need to reduce staff costs, job roles no longer required and phasing out of the furlough scheme).
The agility of the BICS, with questions reviewed fortnightly, has given decision makers relevant and timely data. BICS data has been crucial for decision makers throughout the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, notably for highlighting changes in economic trends and identifying differences across business sectors. Users have included HM Treasury, the Cabinet Office, the Department for International Trade and the Bank of England. The ONS produces a fortnightly bulletin to report business performance, trends and operations, including a detailed dataset with industry and size band breakdowns of all questions.
Anonymised data is held in the SRS for use by accredited research. To date, 28 projects within the SRS have used BICS data, including projects using multiple datasets, such as NHS Test and Trace data, and the Labour Force Survey. BICS was the second most requested Covid-19 related dataset in 2020 within the SRS and was in the top ten most used SRS datasets overall.
Publications and reports
- ONS BICS bulletins: Business insights and impact on the UK economy
- ONS BICS dataset bulletins: Business insights and impact on the UK economy
- ONS report: BICS Quality and Methodology Information (QMI)
- ONS article, May 2021: Coronavirus and the latest indicators for the UK economy and society
- Health Data Research Innovation Gateway: Business insights and conditions survey
- ONS article, August 2021: Coronavirus and the social impacts on Great Britain
Blogs, news posts, and videos
- The Times, August 2021: Go back to the office if you want to get on, says Rishi Sunak
- Gov.uk article, July 2021: Numbers on furlough fall to lowest level since start of the pandemic
- Gov.uk article, May 2021: Early indicators of the impact of the end of the EU transition period on UK businesses trading in services
- The Scotsman, July 2021: Scotland's Covid recovery: Amid growing business confidence, a real-life Dragon's Den could be a big help
- Gov.uk Official Statistics Announcement, August 2021: Comparison of ONS and HMRC furloughed employee statistics, UK: March 2020 to June 2021
- The Telegraph, July 2021: Jabs for jobs is down to individual companies, says No 10
About the ONS Secure Research Service
The ONS Secure Reseach Service (SRS) is an accredited trusted research environment, using the Five Safes Framework to provide secure access to de-identified, unpublished data. If you would like to discuss writing a future case study with us, please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org