Close to two thirds (58%) of small businesses expect their performance to improve this quarter, and fewer than one in three (31%) expect theirs will worsen, according to the latest Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) study of almost 1,700 UK business owners.

With trading restrictions easing across England and Wales, the business group reports that its UK SBI confidence measure has risen to +27.3 in Q1 of this year, up from -49.3 last quarter. The index is at its highest level since Q3 2014, when it hit +41.0, and is in positive territory for the first time since Q2 2018.  

PICTURE: Dave Young

FSB Development Manager for Sussex, Martin Searle, said: ““It’s fantastic that our shops, hairdressers and gyms can get back to doing what they do best all over Sussex from Monday 12 April. We have been gearing up for this for a while now and looking forward to welcoming back customers to buy local, shop local and eat and drink local.”

More than half (51%) of those surveyed expect their revenues to increase over the coming three months, the highest proportion since the summer of 2015. Fewer than one in four (24%) expect sales to fall: the same figure stood at 84% at this time last year.

The majority (53%) aspire to grow their firms over the next 12 months, the highest share since Q3 2019, marking a 22% jump compared to the same period last year.

However, with the job retention scheme starting to wind down over the coming months, one in seven (14%) small firms with staff say they are likely to make some or all of their team redundant this quarter.

FSB National Chairman Mike Cherry said:“It’s worrying to see such a sizeable proportion of employers fearing redundancies over the coming months. Initiatives like Kickstart, as well as incentives to take on apprentices and trainees, need to be delivered efficiently over the coming months to protect against job market shock. Young people have disproportionately borne the brunt of rising unemployment. Government needs to look at measures to encourage hiring activity, to bringing down the non-wage costs of employment, starting with employer national insurance contributions, which essentially serve as a jobs tax.”

Also, with emergency loan repayments now starting to bite, FSB argues that the Government should carefully consider routes to realising economic value from the facilities it has underwritten: an approach to repayment based on the student loan model and greater adoption of employee ownership trusts could both mark a constructive way forward.

Mike Cherry added: “Lockdowns have caused our £23bn late payment crisis to deepen. As confidence returns, now is the time to bring forward reforms that will help audit committees gain full visibility of payment practices”. 

But the mood in Sussex is upbeat with local FSB Manager, Martin Searle adding:“The certainty provided by the recovery road-map is filling many small business owners with renewed confidence. We live in hope that the virus stays in retreat so the remaining dates for unlocking can be met, enabling our vital night time economies, offices and travel and tourism businesses to get back to it, as well. More support is needed for new start-up businesses too, through Local Enterprise Growth Hubs and the Help to Grow initiative. Both need to urgently widen their remit and make schemes open to all small business owners, not just those that have staff. The economic scene is changing and it is time to adapt to thrive.” 

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