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What the Budget means for SMEs – all the reaction

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced the government’s coronavirus response which includes the promise of emergency aid worth £1bn backed by a “co-ordinated, coherent and comprehensive three point plan” with business at its heart.

He says the response is “temporary, timely and targeted” and has been drawn up with the help of the Bank of England which cut its rates by 0.5 points this morning.

Key measures announced include: For SMEs with fewer than 250 employees, the cost of providing Statutory Sick Pay to any employee off work with coronavirus will – for the first 14 days – be refunded by the government. This will be worth more than £2bn for up to two million businesses, the Chancellor says.

MEASURES INCLUDE BUSINESS LOANS, SUPPORT ON SICK PAY AND THE ABOLITION OF BUSINESS RATES

Businesses are to get a new ‘interruption loan’ scheme guaranteed by the government Banks will offer loans of up to £1.2m to support SMEs. The government will guarantee up to 80 per cent of losses with no fees. This, he says, will be worth up to £1bn in “attractive working capital loans”.

He will also abolish business rates altogether for this year for retailers, in a tax cut worth more than £1bn. Any company eligible for small business rates relief will be allowed a £3,000 cash grant – a £2bn injection for 700,000 small businesses.

The Bank of England slashed the base interest rate from 0.75% to 0.25% this morning to shore up the economy hours after Health Minister Nadine Dorries was diagnosed with COVID-19.

Sunak told ministers at a meeting this morning coronavirus was “front and centre” and the Budget would “make the UK one of the best placed economies in the world to manage the potential impact”.

HMRC’s Time To Pay service will also be scaled up.

He said that Entrepreneurs’ Relief will be retained, but the lifetime allowance will be reduced from £10 million to £1 million, one announcement that brought immediate criticism.

Jamie Morrison, head of private client at accountancy firm HW Fisher said: “This change is as good as abolishing it completely and this is a huge mistake. While a sensible change following proper consultation would be welcomed, this is a step too far.

SHOULD THE CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK WORSEN, JUST HOW MUCH ASSISTANCE CAN THE GOVERNMENT REALISTICALLY PROVIDE TO HELP BUSINESSES AND THEIR EMPLOYEES?”

“By cutting the relief entrepreneurs will only be able to benefit up to £100k during their lifetime.

“This is not enough to drive support of creativity and entrepreneurship. Businesses need consistency and this budget needs to look beyond the immediate implications of coronavirus to provide a vision beyond the next 12 months.”

John Ellmore, Director of Know Your Money said moves to support the self-employed offers some assurance to those that make up the ‘gig economy’ and support to help businesses implement self-isolation measures was welcoming.

He added: “That said, we are still left wondering as to what the long-term solution will be. Should the Coronavirus outbreak worsen, just how much assistance can the Government realistically provide to help businesses and their employees?”

“Let’s not forget the financial challenges that self-isolation can also pose to workers. It is estimated there are 2,000,000 people in the UK with no sick pay who may not be able to afford two-weeks of self-isolation.”

Andrew Mawson, founder of Advanced Workplace Associates makes the point that having the odd ‘work from home’ day is one thing, but managing large numbers of people working at home for a prolonged period of time is quite another.

“There is a lot we take for granted when we’re in the office. When we’re working away, we need to consciously develop new leadership and workership practices,” he said.

“Businesses should adapt and grow or they will diminish. Whether the required change is driven by global economics, workplace cultural changes, or imminent global pandemics such as coronavirus, businesses are having to change their ways of working. Sometimes in an instant.

BUSINESSES SHOULD ADAPT AND GROW OR THEY WILL DIMINISH. WHETHER THE REQUIRED CHANGE IS DRIVEN BY GLOBAL ECONOMICS, WORKPLACE CULTURAL CHANGES, OR IMMINENT GLOBAL PANDEMICS

“There are all sorts of reasons why people can’t get to the office. The trick is to recognise that home or remote working isn’t necessarily a bad thing.”

Mike Hampson, CEO, of Bishopsgate Financial said: “Have to hand it to Sunak, from business rates to investment in infrastructure to contingency funds for employees and SMEs amid Coronavirus Crisis delivering his first budget its sensible stuff by the chancellor.

“Increasing investment in R&D to a record £22bn a year, which is the fastest, and the largest increase in R&D ever higher than the US, China, France and Japan. In addition, significant investments in transport and technology infrastructure should provide an economic boost. Good news about Coronavirus loan scheme. Great support for #SME. However, will it be easy to access for SMEs to access these promised funds? As an SME getting loans could be painful, long and challenging.

“It’ll be interesting to see where the money is coming from when the details are published. This budget together with the earlier BoE interest rate cuts should combine to create a positive mood for the country in a time of uncertainty.”

Peter Webb, MD of Electronic Temperature Instruments, the UK’s largest digital thermometer manufacturer, said he welcomes the SSP announcement.

“These are unprecedented times and businesses of all sizes needed reassurance and a dose of confidence in order to stabilise their business and support their workforces,” he said. “What this does is it confirms the governments’ commitment to getting behind British business throughout this crisis and helps stabilise employment and supports productivity.”

Source: SME Web

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UK small businesses plan ahead despite Brexit paralysis

More than two in three (68%) small business owners have put plans in place to grow their business over the next three months, and even 59% those that fear they will struggle to survive in an uncertain year are working on positive plans to turn their business around, according to new research from Hitachi Capital Business Finance.

The findings come at a time when the proportion of UK small businesses predicting growth has hit a five-year low (down from 39% to 34%). Nonetheless, despite prolonged Brexit uncertainty, the new Hitachi data reveals a tenacity and determination among the UK small business community to keep calm and carry on, even through an unprecedented period of political and economic change for the country at large.

The Hitachi data also suggests it is Britain’s youngest small businesses that are the most can-do in putting growth plans in place for the first three months of 2019. Overall, 87% of business owners aged under 35 have been working on new growth plans (compared to 55% of those aged 55 or over). Further, the UK’s youngest businesses (those trading for less than five years) were most assertive in working on new growth initiatives (71%). With London and Manchester growing as the UK’s top tech hubs (and cities for tech jobs), the Hitachi research also noted that London (78%) and the North West (71%) were the regions where small businesses were most likely to be tackling Brexit uncertainty with proactive growth plans.

What are small businesses prioritising to achieve growth?

As part of the latest instalment of Hitachi Capital Business Barometer, which tracks small business outlook and confidence over time, Hitachi asked a nationally representative sample of 1,177 small business decision makers which initiatives they were considering in order to achieve growth in the three months to April 2019. The results paint a picture of what the small business community will be prioritising during the critical Brexit transition period in the weeks ahead.

Keep costs down and carry on

The number one issue for small businesses was controlling fixed costs. During a period of rising rents, business rate hikes and a weak pound, 41% of respondents said cost control was a top priority to help their business grow in uncertain times.  As the perceived importance of cost control hits a five-year high, a further 18% of respondents said they intended to tackle late payment. Despite recent moves by the Government to tackle this issue, there is no evidence that anything as dampened this issue for small business owners. Concern over tackling late payment is at its highest level since the start of 2017.

Cashflow remains king

Improving cash flow has also hit a five-year high as a priority for small businesses to tackle (22%). The perceived need to tackle this issue was most prevalent in the manufacturing (40%), distribution (38%) real estate (38%) and retail (33%) sectors. It was also a bigger issue among larger SMEs with a turnover of £10m or more – ventures that have more complex infrastructures and bigger cost bases to manage.

Expanding the business footprint

Expanding into new overseas markets (16%), hiring more people (15%) and investing in new equipment (12%) were all popular initiatives to secure growth, although in all these areas there was a slight dip on 2018, suggesting some small businesses could be putting on hold physical expansion plans until there is greater certainty on the Brexit outcome.

Looking an industry sectors, small businesses in agriculture were most likely to be planning to invest in new equipment (31%). Expansion into new overseas markets was led by the IT and telecoms sector (49%) and enterprises in the media and marketing sector (34%). Small businesses in the IT and telecoms sector were also those most likely to be hiring new staff in the months ahead (35%).

Initiatives that small business owners are considering to achieve growth in the three months to April 2019

Q1 2017 Q3 2017 Q1 2018 Q3 2018 Q1 2019
Keeping fixed costs down 37% 32% 36% 37% 41%
Improving cash flow 20% 19% 19% 20% 22%
Being stricter with getting paid on time (e.g. from clients) 17% 17% 14% 16% 18%
Expanding into new markets/ overseas 20% 15% 18% 15% 16%
Hiring more people 17% 13% 15% 16% 15%
Investing in new equipment 14% 11% 13% 14% 12%
Reassessing finance commitments 8% 8% 8% 10% 8%
Streamlining supply chain 6% 6% 6% 6% 6%
Seeking financial funding via a partner/ company other than our bank 6% 5% 5% 5% 5%
Moving to a different location/ bigger office 5% 6% 5% 6% 5%
Securing financing to replace a vital business asset(s) 2% 1% 2% 2% 2%

Gavin Wraith-Carter, managing director at Hitachi Capital Business Finance said, “We are all living with political and economic uncertainty at the moment, and getting used to living with it will become the new norm for most businesses in 2019. It is heartening to see so many small businesses going towards uncertainty and seeing it as a time to improve their business, get it in better shape and achieve growth. For smaller businesses that can adapt faster and move quicker, 2019 could be a year of great opportunity.

“That said, finance is going to be key, possibly more so than ever. At a time of uncertainty, cutting fixed costs and strengthening cash flow will be a fundamental requirement for many small businesses in order to simply operate. Beyond that, getting the right kind of finance deals and support is crucial.

“More than ever before, small businesses need access to specialist financial solutions that can nurture growth and expansion without placing undue pressure on cashflow. At Hitachi Capital Business Finance we have a range of financial products that do just that.

“Our heritage is in manufacturing not banking and as a leading finance provider we are in the business of helping small businesses growth through all the stages of an economic cycle. It makes business sense to help business customers stay in business and grow – and we will be expanding our support for the small business sector during 2019.”

Source: London Loves Business

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Small business confidence falls to lowest level since financial crash

Small business confidence has fallen to -9.9, the lowest level since the wake of the financial crash in 2011, according to the latest Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) Small Business Index.

The data revealed that 67% of small firms do not expect their performance to improve this quarter.

The index revealed that 58% of businesses say the domestic economy is a significant barrier to growth, up from 55% at this time last year.

Access to appropriately skilled staff (36%), lack of consumer demand (29%) and labour costs (21%) are also frequently flagged as primary barriers to growth.

Small businesses in the accommodation and food services (-48%), retail (-44%) and manufacturing (-16%) sectors report some of the lowest index readings.

FSB national chairman, Mike Cherry, said: “How have politicians allowed it to come to this? Two and half years on from the Brexit vote and small businesses are looking ahead to Brexit day with no idea of what environment they’ll be faced with in less than ten weeks’ time.

“The current uncertainty is making it impossible for firms to plan, hire and invest. That’s feeding into wider concern about the economy at large. We won’t see GDP growth pick-up again until there’s some certainty about how the business environment will change in the coming months.

“Come the beginning of April, small firms will not only have Brexit day to worry about but also Making Tax Digital, a higher living wage, rising auto-enrolment contributions and further business rates hikes. This will be a flashpoint for a lot of businesses, threatening the futures of many.”

The index also shows borrowing costs for small businesses soaring. The proportion of successful credit applicants being offered a borrowing rate of 5% or more has hit a record-high (74%).

The proportion of small firms applying for external finance remains low at 13%.

Cherry added: “With Brexit taking up all of the government’s bandwidth there are a huge number of domestic business issues that are not being addressed. They include the long-standing barriers small firms face when trying to access new finance, and the sky-high borrowing rates they’re often offered if an application is successful.

“This is another issue that will be exacerbated by a chaotic no-deal Brexit. When times are tough, big lenders often put supporting small businesses on hold.”

Source: Talking Retail

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How the Autumn Budget will affect SMEs

The Chancellor’s Budget announced earlier this week by Philip Hammond has promised an ‘end to austerity’ for Britain. With numerous policies to help first-time buyers, lower incomes and housing, we look at how the new Budget will impact the SME marketing in the UK.

A significant change will be the Chancellor’s attempt to help fledging high-street businesses, who have certainly felt the pinch over the last year, with noticeable casualties such as House of Fraser, BHS, Byron Burger and Jamie’s Italian.

In a move to better the current situation for high street businesses, Hammond has pledged to cut business rates by a third for all retailers with a rateable value of £51,000 or less for the next two years. This will help retailers save up to £8,000 per year and that includes high street shops, pubs, restaurants, cafes and other small business owners that are losing ground online.

A further £675m has been assigned as a Future High Streets Fund, to aid the transformation of the UK’s high streets, to improve footfall and regenerate areas in need of redevelopment.

For entrepreneurs, the start-up loan scheme originally founded by Rt Hon David Cameron will be backing a further 10,000 new businesses – this includes seed funding, start-up capital, merchant loans and business finance. A further £200m has been put aside by the British Business Bank to replace funding which they are likely to lose from the EU following the Brexit deadline in March 2019.

For SMEs that take on apprentices, the training bill will be reduced from 10% to 5%, and the government will pay the remaining 95%. Those apprentices aged 16 to 18 and working in companies of less than 50 will continue to have their training full funded.

Losing out from the Budget will be the powerhouse tech companies who started abroad but operate in the UK and use schemes to avoid paying tax. Pointing out the likes of Google, Facebook and Amazon, the tax will be imposed on those firms with a global revenue of £500 a year and the increase in tax will put £400 million back in the UK government, when it comes into place in April 2020.

Elsewhere, a scheme has been planned to offer interest free loans those struggling with debt caused by high cost credit – relating specifically to unauthorised overdrafts, rent to buy and payday products. This will be based on a consumer level and not impact businesses or sole traders using guarantor, personal or bridging loan products.

UK roads and infrastructure are expected to get a huge boost at just under £30bn in investment and first time buyers in shared ownership schemes will have their stamp duty scrapped – giving them a saving of £10,000.

Source: FinSMEs

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SME-focused fund eyes potential after lending firms £2m

A fund backed by the Scottish Government specialising in loans to Scottish SMEs that have been turned down by larger lenders has so far lent £2 million, creating hundreds of jobs, it has been revealed today.

The Scottish Microfinance Fund (SMF) is managed and delivered by community development finance institution DSL Business Finance with additional support from the Start-up Loans Company and European Regional Development Fund.

It recently held a parliamentary reception at Holyrood to celebrate its first birthday, and has lent to more than 130 new and existing firms, helping create more than 200 jobs in the last year.

The fund has a dedicated £6m pot to lend SMEs up to £25,000, and is part of a larger £40m boost from the Scottish Government’s SME Holding Fund. Interest is 6 per cent a year, and it imposes no admin or early repayment fees, or hidden charges.

DSL executive director Stuart Yuill said: “We are approached by a huge variation of SMEs from all industries; from dental design studios and cafés to clothing and fashion companies.

“Taking the leap to start your own business is a daunting prospect for many entrepreneurs, especially in today’s economic and political climate, which is tough to adapt to. But there is huge potential for the SMF in 2018, and we’ve been heartened by the number of people we’ve been able to assist in Scotland… we’ve doubled our own team, with plans to recruit another loan officer for Edinburgh.”

SMF beneficiaries include Mike Stalker and Natalie King, founders of SK Dental Design Studio, who used its loan support to fully equip and fit out their studio as well as help with cashflow until the business becomes established. Stalker said: “We wouldn’t be here without the support of DSL and the SMF. We approached the banks for a loan, and they simply were not interested.”

The parliamentary reception was sponsored by Gail Ross MSP with a keynote address from economy secretary Keith Brown on the importance of continued business growth in Scotland. The fund aims to help tackle the much-cited issue of firms, particularly in Scotland, struggling to secure the funding required to achieve their scale-up goals. The inaugural Scottish Start-up Survey published last year found that 95 per cent of respondents said they needed extra capital to move their business forward, and seeing it as a bigger immediate concern than Brexit, for example.

Additionally, a study from Barclays published in November found that in 2016 the number of Scottish high-growth firms fell to 171 from the previous year. However, UK Chancellor Philip Hammond the same month unveiled in the Autumn Budget £2.5 billion for the British Business Bank, to support UK smaller firms looking to scale up and realise their potential.

Source: Scotsman

 

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Pension funds, small businesses boost growth in UK alternative finance

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s alternative finance market grew by 43 percent in 2016, research showed on Friday, with interest from start-ups, small businesses and institutional investors helping to boost demand for services such as crowdfunding and peer-to-peer lending.

Last year, 4.6 billion pounds ($6.2 billion) was raised through alternative channels, up from 3.2 billion pounds in 2015, according to a survey of 8,300 investors and 77 crowdfunding or peer-to-peer platforms.

“Alternative finance has entered the mainstream and is likely here to stay,” said Byran Zhang, executive director of the Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance (CCAF) at the university’s Judge Business School, which conducted the survey.

Approximately 72 percent of the year’s market volume, or 3.3 billion pounds, was driven by demand from start-ups and small businesses. That was up from 50 percent the year before.

Major banks reined in their lending in the wake of the financial crisis, and many small businesses complain of poor treatment and difficulty accessing funds.

Several alternative finance providers have sprung up to try to fill the gap, such as peer-to-peer lender Funding Circle, which announced this week it had lent more than 3 billion pounds to almost 40,000 businesses since its launch in 2010.

Another, MarketInvoice, offers peer-to-peer loans secured against businesses’ invoices and has lent 1.7 billion pounds since 2011.

ATTRACTING ATTENTION

After peer-to-peer business lending, the biggest categories were peer-to-peer consumer lending, peer-to-peer property lending, invoice trading, equity-based crowdfunding, real-estate crowdfunding and reward-based crowdfunding.

Institutional investors including pension funds, asset managers and banks were also increasingly backing the platforms, the survey showed. Funding from these sources accounted for 34 percent of peer-to-peer property lending, 28 percent of peer-to-peer business lending and 32 percent of peer-to-peer consumer lending.

 Peer-to-peer lending can offer relatively high returns. Funding Circle, for example, currently boasts an all-time average annual return of 6.6 percent.

But the sector’s fast growth has also caught the attention of the Financial Conduct Authority, which is looking at introducing new regulation for the sector, highlighting concerns about past loan losses and due diligence.

This week, peer-to-peer lender RateSetter, the UK’s third-largest, reported a pretax loss of 23.7 million pounds after it took a hit from a bad loan.

Source: UK Reuters