Small business confidence grows as stores reopen in England and Wales

Optimism returns when the stores reopen

According to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), small businesses feel much safer about reopening businesses in England and Wales.

The group reports that the UK Small Business Index’s confidence measure rose to 27.3 in the first quarter of 2021, from -49.3 in the last quarter. The index is at its highest level since the third quarter of 2014 when it hit +41.00 and is in positive territory for the first time since the second quarter of 2018.

Figures also show that nearly two-thirds (58 percent) expect performance to improve, while less than a third (31 percent) expect performance to get worse.

More than half (51 percent) of the nearly 1,700 entrepreneurs surveyed believe that their sales will increase in the next three months. This is the highest proportion since summer 2015. Less than one in four (24 percent) expects a decline in sales. The same number was 84 percent around this time last year.

Even more (53 percent) are aiming to expand their business in the next 12 months. This is the highest value since the third quarter of 2019 and represents an increase of 22 percentage points since that time last year.

It’s not all positive, however. Research from Nucleus Commercial Finance also shows that 21 percent of business owners are anxious, 17 percent stressed, and 15 percent worried. Only one in ten feels supported. From a customer perspective, more than one in five (21 percent) is concerned that customers are clinging to social distancing. Slightly less than 19 percent are concerned about the implementation of new health and safety measures. With the majority of consumers turning to online shopping over the past year, one in eight (13 percent) SMB owners are concerned about customers staying online rather than coming into the store.

An important question for business owners is when will revenues return to pre-pandemic levels. A study by Tide shows that 37 percent aren’t sure when this will happen. 20 percent believe it will take more than six months, while one in ten (14 percent) believe it will take over a year to return to pre-pandemic levels.

The main concern of small businesses is the time it takes to rebuild the customer base. Of those who said it will take more than three months to get back on their feet, nearly three-quarters (72 percent) cite this as the main reason. The second most common problem is the need to adapt companies to Covid’s security regulations.

More help needed

The FSB is also calling for cuts in recruitment costs due to redundancy fears and renewed efforts to combat late payments and innovative debt approaches.

One in seven (14 percent) small businesses says there is a likelihood that part or all of their team will be laid off this quarter.

Mike Cherry, Chairman of the FSB, said: “It is fantastic that, starting today, our shops, hairdressers and gyms across England can again do what they do best, with some restrictions easing in other parts of the UK as well.

“It is worrying to see that such a sizeable proportion of employers fear layoffs in the coming months. Initiatives such as Kickstart and incentives to recruit trainees and trainees must be implemented efficiently in the coming months in order to protect themselves from a shock on the labor market and to support the young people who have borne the brunt of the rising unemployment disproportionately.

“Policymakers also need to consider measures to encourage recruitment. It would certainly help lower non-wage employment costs, starting with the employer’s social security contributions, which essentially serve as an employment tax. “

He said the support needs to go further.

“With emergency loan repayments now starting to take hold, the government should carefully consider how to get economic value from the facilities it underwires: a student loan repayment approach and greater trust takeover for Employee participation could mark both constructive paths into the future.

“As the economy changes, support policies need to evolve – especially when it comes to supporting startups. The Help to Grow initiative should be urgently reformed to both expand the scope of support and make it accessible to all small business owners at the outset, not just those who already have employees. “

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