UK small businesses are increasingly confident in their ability to grow and power the economic recovery, although many still have fears about the ongoing impact of Covid restrictions. This comes according to new data published today by the British Chambers of Commerce in partnership with Funding Circle, the UK’s largest small business loan platform.
The survey of more than 1,000 firms, almost all SMEs, reveals the majority (63%) are emerging from lockdown with either concrete plans or intentions to grow their business over the next 12 months. The manufacturing sector (68%) is particularly optimistic, while nearly six-in-ten (58%) of the hardest hit business-to-consumer (B2C) firms such as hospitality, catering and retail still anticipate growth.
Although the UK economy is yet to fully reopen, many businesses have demonstrated their resilience and are already carrying out their vital role as engines of economic growth. More than half (53%) said they had already restarted or returned to pre-pandemic levels in April, with a further 27% expecting to reach this milestone by October. By the end of the year, 91% of businesses expect to have fully restarted, with only 1% not expecting to restart for the foreseeable future.
For many, the biggest barriers to reopening are Covid-related, such as the risk of further lockdowns (cited by 38% of respondents) or social distancing requirements (cited by 37%). Concerns around reduced customer demand (33%), inflation pressure (18%) and recruitment difficulties (14%) are also weighing on UK businesses.
Access to finance will be key in helping SMEs to unlock their full growth potential, with nearly half (44%) believing it will help overcome the remaining barriers they face.
Commenting on the findings, Jade Dyer, Business Director Doncaster Chamber, said: “Locally we have seen the ability and will of businesses to bounce back from the devastation caused by Covid which is a huge testament to their resilience.
“Businesses across the region have been affected and the scars of Covid will remain for years to come and whilst we see optimism across the sectors with an appetite to invest, many firms are understandably still uncertain about what the future holds.
“As we have seen with the roadmap, businesses work well when they can operate with advance notice on changes wherever possible. With this in mind, there still remains a need for the government to clarify the future of safety measures, such as social distancing, and set out a clear package of support that would be available should further restrictions be imposed on businesses this year, or in the years to come.
“Businesses will feel more confident and will be more willing to invest in jobs and in developing their business, if government can give assurances that a safety net of financial support will be provided should there be a need for restrictions which reduce or stop commercial activity in order to protect public health.
“Surveys such as this one by British Chamber of Commerce in partnership with the Funding Circle as well as our South Yorkshire Quarterly Economic Survey – which members can complete https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/ZBKHVLH – are so important as it gives voice to businesses to share their own findings as we navigate through the comings months and years together.”