THE escalating cost of doing business, including electricity and municipal levies, is the biggest concern among local businesses, the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Sacci) said on Tuesday.

These factors are also weighing on the confidence levels of businesses for 2014.

A Sacci survey conducted among 64 businesses that employ at least 24,000 people also found business owners were concerned about the cost of complying with regulations, which included the time and resources involved.

“The third-biggest concern is the cost (of) or access to finance, followed by inadequate or failing infrastructure, uncertainty over changes to law, and crime,” Sacci CEO Neren Rau said.

Businesses surveyed were least worried about labour strife and public service delivery.

Mr Rau said businesses did not expect any changes to conditions in 2014, while a “significant number”, or 49%, expected an improvement within their own business.

About 25% of the 64 businesses surveyed planned to increase their employee numbers, while 21% said they would need to shed jobs.

“While most businesses do not plan to increase their workforce, more businesses are likely to employ additional staff rather than reduce staff in 2014,” Mr Rau said.

Although labour issues were of least concern among businesses, Sacci said more firms expected a strike this year than those who had experienced strikes in 2013.

Strikes in various sectors, particularly in manufacturing, severely curbed economic growth in the third quarter of 2013.

Mr Rau said due to the high cost of doing business, regulatory burdens and high financing costs, companies would need to employ “strong advocacy efforts” to make the environment more conducive to economic growth and job creation.