What next for the UK’s SMEs?

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Following a series of blockbuster announcements regarding the future of the UK economy, following Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Spring Budget, Business Leader got the views from SME leaders on what they can expect going forward.

Chirag Shah, CEO, Nucleus Commercial Finance comments: “SME owners across the country have been longing for a clear road map out of lockdown. Today’s announcement by the Chancellor combined with the recent lockdown exit strategy will provide businesses with a glimmer of hope, and give them the additional lifelines they need to survive.

“With our own research showing that seven in 10 business owners were calling for a furlough extension, today’s announcement comes as welcome news to all. Combine this with an extension of business rates relief, this will provide a significant boost to those in the hospitality and retail sectors.

“These measures will undoubtedly help SMEs in the short-term, but now the government needs to create a long-term environment where businesses can prosper. For too long, businesses, particularly those on the high street, have faced tough measures, including increased rents and high business rates. Looking ahead, we need a system that will reflect the new world we live in, one which supports SMEs and allows them to thrive.”

Oliver Prill, Tide CEO said: “We welcome the fact that today’s was a budget for SMEs and that Government support now goes beyond  COVID restrictions ending in June.

“However, we are concerned that September will be too soon to withdraw crucial financial support. With one in five small businesses expecting to make redundancies once the furlough scheme ends there will be huge pressure for small businesses to return to pre-COVID revenue levels in only a matter of months. Pulling the furlough scheme and all other financial support from under small businesses’ feet so soon may pose a real danger.

“We would urge the government to put SMEs at the heart of its building back better agenda. Accounting for around half of the economy, SMEs can make a substantial contribution from levelling up to NetZero and job creation.”

Darren Upson, VP Small Business Europe at Soldo, said: “For many small and medium-sized businesses the extension of the furlough scheme is a welcomed relief, having served as a means of allowing SMBs to continue to grow over the last year. While it’s continuation will help business expansion, this will need to be supplemented with leaders having better visibility of what is happening in their organisations – especially on the money leaving – if they are to manage the continued challenges ahead.

“We also have the furlough scheme to thank for keeping unemployment in check. While it is worrying to see unemployment on the rise, we are certainly not seeing a realisation of the nightmare scenario one might expect from the dramatic government interventions. This scheme has allowed many small businesses to go into a necessary hibernation, ready to return when the economy reopens. We hope that its extension will mean we can avoid a sudden surge in unemployment once it is eventually wound down. This would almost certainly have been the case without this extension.”

Alan Thomas, UK CEO of Simply Business, comments: “At Simply Business, we welcome the lifeline for small businesses in today’s budget. It’s positive news to see small businesses rightfully recognised in the nation’s economic recovery plan, but we should know that many self-employed people will still be left without the support they need to survive, let alone thrive.

“By providing this latest package of SME support measures which total £33 billion, including the extension of the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme and Business Rates Relief, Mr. Sunak will enable many small businesses to make it beyond the current lockdown restrictions. These measures have primed the UK economy for a positive, if phased, reopening as we move through this year.

“We welcome the decision to extend the furlough scheme through to the end of September. With small businesses accounting for 48% of all UK jobs, this is an essential lifeline for millions up and down the country, and is another show of support to the SMEs who will be key to our collective recovery.

“While today’s announcement will provide millions of SMEs with the needed certainty to confidently plan for the future, it’s essential to recognise that many will still be left without the support that they need. We’d urge the Chancellor to do all he can to support the UK’s diverse range of small businesses as we look to bounce back from the effects of the pandemic.”

“SMEs are facing a marathon, not a sprint and with them being so crucial to our collective, long term recovery, we’d urge the Government to keep trying to create better conditions for existing small businesses to prosper, and for new entrepreneurs to start up.”

Help to Grow

Jamie Mackenzie, Director at Sodexo Engage, comments on the news that Rishi Sunak will offer ‘help to grow’ training for SME managers: “Offering MBA-style training to small business leaders is positive news for many in this hard-hit sector. Small businesses are the lifeblood of the UK economy, and this year has seen them confront unremitting challenges.

“Giving SME leaders access to training tools and resources is great, but the government mustn’t overlook the implications the pandemic has had on the mental health of SME leaders. The impact of the last year will be longer lasting with many having to furlough workers and make difficult decisions around redundancies.

“The end of lockdown roadmap has provided a glimmer of hope, but we are not out of the woods yet. Prioritising mental health and providing support for business leaders will be crucial.”

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