Small firms are struggling despite support schemes

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Date: 4 May 2021

Worried new business owner calculating finances.

More than a quarter of UK SMEs say they need additional support from the government to stay afloat.

Hitachi Capital Invoice Finance has polled more than 1,000 senior business decision-makers at UK SMEs across a range of sectors, asking how the support from the government during the pandemic has impacted their business.

A third say their business would not have survived without state support. Even so, over a quarter (27%) of SMEs said they require additional government support in order to stay in business.

Businesses in the East Midlands (39%), Wales (37%) and Scotland (33%) were most in need of additional support, while SMEs in the North East of England required the least. More than half of senior decision-makers in the hospitality sector said they needed more state help in order to survive. Nearly a third of manufacturing businesses (30%) and retailers (29%) said the same.

Those sectors most in need of additional government support are:

  • Hospitality and leisure (54%);
  • Manufacturing (30%);
  • Retail (29%);
  • Marketing (27%);
  • Construction (25%).

The findings also show that 23% of those polled have had to let employees go as a result of the pandemic. Nearly a third of businesses in London and the South East have had to make redundancies because of coronavirus, more than any other region in the UK. Firms in Yorkshire (13%) saw the fewest number of redundancies as a result of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the latest Quarterly Recruitment Outlook from the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC ) shows an increase in the percentage of firms expecting workforce growth.

The survey of over 5,900 UK businesses found that:

  • 27% of firms expect their workforce to grow in the next three months, up from 19% in Q4 2020;
  • The proportion of firms expecting a decrease in their workforce dropped from 14% to 9% between Q4 2020 and Q1 2021;
  • 40% of firms tried to recruit in Q1, down compared to the pre-pandemic 2019 average of 55%;
  • 63% of those who attempted to recruit reported difficulty finding staff.

However, the picture varies significantly by sector. Only 20% of hotels and catering firms tried to recruit in the first quarter of this year, while retail and wholesaling also lagged at 34%. On a more positive note, 50% of manufacturers and 54% of construction firms attempted to recruit in Q1.

Written by Rachel Miller.