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Critical challenges remain as UK SMBs return to work

by LLB Reporter
2nd Jun 20 5:35 am

Sage, the UK’s largest listed technology company, today published its SMB Tracker highlighting the latest sentiment from the UK’s small and medium sized businesses in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.

As the UK enters Phase 2 of its lockdown, the SMB Tracker confirms there is a growing sectoral divide in the impact of the pandemic on the small and medium business community.

As SMBs in consumer-facing sectors like retail and hospitality struggle to plan a return to operation, other industries are becoming more optimistic about the overall financial impact. Average projected 2020 revenue impact has reduced consistently from -30% at the beginning of lockdown to -10%, a +6% improvement in the past week. But businesses in hospitality and retail are the exception, expecting -75% and -32% hits to revenue respectively. Meanwhile, SMBs in technology, media and healthcare expect a net positive impact on revenue.

Despite some early signs of recovery, severe financial challenges are projected to continue for SMBs well into Q3 2020. This week the survey finds 61% are currently operating at a loss, and over 50% expect this to continue beyond the end of June; 20% expect it to continue until September or beyond. 39% of businesses have seen their sales halve since the beginning of the pandemic, and most do not expect this to improve by July.

Over a third of SMBs say they cannot yet afford to bring back any furloughed workers. However, 28% have started returning furloughed employees back into the workplace and a further 21% plan to do so in June or July.

Despite the support provided by the furlough scheme, 46% of businesses are considering redundancies over the next 3 months. This is in contrast to 20% of businesses intending to increase their workforce, by an average of 16%.

Sabby Gill, Managing Director of UK&I at Sage, said: “We are starting to see some green shoots of recovery as the SMB community begins to return furloughed workers and the average financial impact continues to reduce; with technology and ecommerce proving a key enabler.

“However, we must treat this with caution. The outlook remains deeply concerning as we look towards Q3 and the relaxing of lockdown, with financial challenges continuing to bite for many.

“There is also a significant and growing divide between the sectors as the crisis continues.  As the retail and hospitality industries remain at a standstill, the financial fortunes of these businesses are diverging even further from those of the average SMB. They will also face a whole different set of operational challenges. Meanwhile, some businesses – particularly in technology and healthcare – are projecting growth in sales and making plans to grow their teams.

“This underlines the need for a tailored, more sector-focused approach to support as we move into the next phase. We must ensure small businesses in critically challenged sectors do not get left behind.”

Regional differences are starting to emerge, with the financial outlook among London SMBs markedly worse over the short term. 31% of SMBs in London are planning imminent redundancies, well above the national average of 18%. 71% of London SMBs are currently operating at a loss, compared to an average 59% elsewhere. However, they expect this to be more short-lived than the rest of the country – only 8% believe they will still be making losses in October and beyond, compared to 19% elsewhere.

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