Business Insights and Conditions Survey

Business Insights and Conditions Survey

This research used data made available via the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Secure Research Service, which is being expanded and improved with ADR UK funding.

Authors: Office for National Statistics

Date: August 2020

Research summary

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. 

Data used

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
  • stocks
  • 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.

Methods used

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.

Research findings

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).

Research impact

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.

Research outputs

Publications and reports

Blogs, news posts, and videos

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:


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