Owner-managed businesses are the backbone of the UK economy. They employ three-fifths of the UK workforce and contribute 50% of the turnover of the private sector. How these businesses perform, their hopes and fears for the future, and a business environment that supports and nurtures these businesses is important.
Those businesses are facing change at a rate not seen in generations. The need to pivot, adapt, flex and, in some instances, rethink has never been greater. Time to think, to plan, and to prepare for post-Covid and Brexit growth is paramount. They face a huge challenge but also a great opportunity in the coming months.
That is why Kreston Reeves and the Association of Practicing Accountants, a network of advisory firms acting for 14,000 businesses, surveyed 435 owner-managed businesses across the UK in May 2021.
Our survey suggests that the impact of the Covid pandemic has yet to be fully felt. However, the early stages of recovery are here. Businesses that for much of the past year have been on ‘life support’ are stirring, evolving and looking for opportunities to grow. The UK faces an unprecedented challenge in reawakening the economy in a way that helps businesses grow.
45% of the businesses we surveyed reported a drop in turnover by a third since the January 2021 lockdown, against a fifth (21%) reporting an increase in their turnover.
The single biggest challenge facing 53% of businesses surveyed is the uncertain trading conditions. The Government’s extension of restrictions, alongside questions following the emergence of new strains of the virus will continue this uncertainty.
Businesses will be preparing for localised restrictions. Just 15% of businesses consider Brexit and supply chain issues a concern, with perhaps the challenges of Brexit temporarily overshadowed by the Covid pandemic. Just 9% of businesses see new hybrid ways of working and an additional 9% a lack of capacity to rebuild a concern.
As the UK emerges from the latest rounds of lockdowns and the efficacy of the Government’s vaccine programme is felt, business confidence grows. A priority for almost half (45%) of all
business surveyed is to capitalise on the opportunities a post-lockdown economy presents.
For a small number of businesses (15%) survival remains the priority. If in a worst-case scenario, 15% of owner-managed businesses were to collapse, 1.85m people would face the prospect of losing their jobs.
The impact of Brexit
It is now six months since the UK left the transitional arrangements with the European Union. The Office for National Statistics reported in May a 23% fall in European trade for the first three months of the year, and is perhaps only following the easing of restrictions from the latest Covid lockdown that the challenges are becoming more apparent.
Just under a quarter of businesses (23%) surveyed told us that Brexit has had a detrimental effect on their business following the UK’s departure from the EU. Just 10% told us that leaving the EU has had a positive impact on their business.
The majority of businesses, 66%, told us that it is just too early to fully assess the impact of Brexit on their business. This underpins the importance of businesses to scenario plan every possible future outcome and make plans accordingly.
Our quarterly barometer will ask businesses whether they are optimistic about the long-term economic prospects of the country outside of EU. The picture at the end of the first quarter of the year is almost as close as the referendum result itself in 2016.
Government fiscal policy
The Government held its first post-Brexit Budget on March 3rd. It was, understandably, a Budget focused on continued support to Covid-affected businesses rather than repositing the UK on the world’s stage.
An overwhelming 81% of the businesses we surveyed told us that it was too early to assess the impact of that Budget. 14% told us they considered it a good Budget for their business, with just 6% saying it was bad.
Over a quarter (27%) of businesses surveyed told us that the Super Capital Allowances Scheme was singularly the most important measure introduced, with 19% pointing to the extension of the furlough scheme, and 12% highlighting the re-start grants.
Access to funding will be critical as businesses look to capitalise on post-Covid growth opportunities. It is encouraging, therefore, that 84% of businesses believe they will have no trouble accessing the funds needed. Anecdotal feedback also suggests bank lending is increasingly available.
It was also encouraging to see almost all businesses (89%) report that they are either unlikely or very unlikely to make staff redundancies within the next six months and that 84% of those businesses using the government furlough scheme are expecting to retain their staff.
To access a full copy of the ‘Reawakening the economy’
report visit www.krestonreeves.com/reawakening-report
Andrew Tate is a Partner and Head of Restructuring and Transformation at Kreston Reeves. E: firstname.lastname@example.org T: 0330 124 1399