SMEs in the UK are a great deal more positive about their own growth prospects and those of the broader UK economy than they were only 12 months ago, according to the latest data from Close Brothers Asset Finance. This is despite ongoing concerns over Brexit and the skills shortages affecting many sectors.

Two-thirds of the 900 respondents are either ‘far more’ (27.7 per cent) or ‘marginally’ (38.6 per cent) more positive than they were 12 months ago, while 24 per cent are ‘the same’, while only 9.8 per cent are less optimistic.

The figures cited are from a Kantar survey conducted in August / September 2021. The survey canvassed the opinion of over 900 SME owners across the UK and Ireland and across several industries on a range of issues affecting their businesses.

Growth expectations for the final months of 2021, too, were high, with 21 per cent predicting strong performances and 37.4 per cent expecting moderate increases. A third expect to continue to trade at current levels with the remaining firms anticipating some level of contraction.

Investing to stimulate growth was also a key topic, 30.4 per cent say they will be investing heavily in the year ahead; 37.3 per cent in a ‘limited’ way, and 32.2 per cent will not be investing at all. 

In terms of the macroeconomic recovery, business owners are cautious about predicting how long it will take for the economy to return to pre-pandemic levels, with one in five of the opinion it’ll take longer than two years; other responses include:

  • 6 – 12 months 16.6 per cent
  • 13 – 18 months 32.3 per cent
  • 19 – 24 months 24.6 per cent
  • More than two years 21.7 per cent

“The data from our latest research again demonstrates the resilience of the UK’s SMEs, who have remained largely positive in the face of generational challenges,” said Neil Davies, CEO, of Close Brothers’ Commercial division. 

“That being said, there are clearly challenges now and ahead that are going to have to be faced, including HGV driver shortages, material availability, price rises, supply chain issues and labour shortages, to name just some.

“Our findings tell us that – overall – around a third of firms we polled contracted during the pandemic, but this doesn’t tell the full picture; for example, in food and drink this figure rises to nearly 50 per cent, while in services it’s 42 per cent, and it’s these firms and the people who work for them who will be needing ongoing assistance during the recovery.”

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