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Businesses brace for additional government restrictions with challenging trading conditions

by LLB political Reporter
21st Dec 21 11:36 am

Ahead of Christmas, Small and Medium sized businesses (SMBs) remain resilient despite the government’s Plan B pandemic restrictions, but expect challenging trading conditions entering the new year, a new survey conducted by FTSE 100 Sage PLC, today reveals.

Sage, the leader in accounting, financial, HR and payroll technology for small and mid-sized businesses, surveyed over 1,000 UK SMBs between 15-16 December, 2021. SMBs surveyed

provided the UK government with clear direction about the support they need to see them through the start of 2022 – mandatory vaccines for employees and cuts in National Insurance contributions are top of their Christmas wish list.

Sage Group CEO Steve Hare said, “Small and Medium businesses need the gift of consideration this Christmas if we don’t want them to be left behind as the Government plans its economic response to this latest phase of the pandemic. We may not be in lockdown but the drop in consumer confidence is already hitting SMBs. Many are bracing themselves for a tough start to 2022. Having invested so much into building their resilience and agility over the last eighteen months, the prospect of more restrictions is a body blow.”

Sage research found that 87% SMBs expect the government to put further restrictions in place before January 2022.  Around two fifths (39%) think the government will introduce further restrictions before Christmas, whilst 43% think new restrictions will be introduced between Christmas and the new year.

Three in five SMBs (61%) support mandatory Covid vaccines for employees, rising to over 80% for workers in higher-risk industries.

Using gov.uk 2021 job figures as a proxy, this could translate to up to 4.6 million of UK SMBs supporting mandatory vaccines at least for employees in higher-risk industries

A further 21% believe vaccines should be compulsory only for people working in higher-risk industries, whilst 16% think vaccines should not be mandatory under any circumstance.

Almost a third of SMBs think mandatory testing for COVID contacts (30%) are the most helpful measures that would allow their business to remain profitable, along with the reintroduction of the furlough scheme (30%).

Using gov.uk 2021 job figures as an estimate, as many as 1.7 million UK small and medium businesses could be helped remain profitable by these measures.

These figures are followed by the introduction of mandatory vaccinations for employees (27%), the offering of Government loans (26%), the introduction of a COVID pass (26%) and tighter restrictions on mask wearing (26%).

When asked about what restrictions they would support, the strongest endorsement is for mask wearing, regular testing and restricting gathering indoors.

Mandatory testing for those who have been in contact with COVID-19 is endorsed by over half of SMB respondents (56%) – with a quarter (27%) opposing such measure and 16% being neither in favour nor against it.

Restricting indoor gatherings in public places also received support by over half of SMB decision makers (52%). Around a third (30%) are against it and 17% neither support nor oppose the introduction of such measure.

By contrast, the most opposed measures are the more restrictive ones – such as a ‘firebreak’ lockdown, the introduction of COVID-19 passes to access public spaces and restrictions around indoor gatherings.

Almost 2 in 5 (37%) oppose the introduction of a ‘firebreak’ lockdown. Support for this measure is the lowest among all measures tested – with only 2 in 5 (40%) being in favour of a ‘firebreak’ lockdown. Another fifth (21%) of SMB decision makers neither support nor oppose such measure.

Over a third oppose COVID-19 passes to enter public areas (35%) – making it the second most opposed measure among SMBs.

Looking at what would provide the biggest boost to their business in 2022 just under a third of SMBs cite lowering National Insurance contributions (30%).

Over one in four cite being paid on time by customers (28%)  A similar proportion think that a reduction in Covid restrictions (27%) and being able to invest more in technology (27%) would be among the top contributing factors to their business’ success in the new year.

SMBs expect their biggest challenge 2022 to be the introduction of more Covid restrictions, one in four (24%) rank additional Covid restrictions as their top concern and half (49%) ranking it in their top three concerns.

Following this, nearly a fifth (17%) of SMBs ranked inflation as their top concern and equally half (48%) ranked inflation as a top three concern.

Thirdly, 13% of SMB decision makers ranked difficulties with supply chains as their largest concern going into 2022 – and over two in five (41%) ranked it as a top three concern.

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