Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) fear collapse without further assistance from government and large companies, according to a YouGov survey, commissioned by IRIS Software Group (IRIS), one of the UK’s largest privately owned software companies.
One in five UK SMEs are calling for more government assistance in the form of the furlough scheme and similar grants. Further, 61% feel large PLC companies could do more to support them.
Over a third (34%) of SMEs would like to see more government and private sector funding to support investment in upgrading and modernising their technological capabilities, with 41% wanting to do so within the next six to 12 months. Mentoring (10%) and easier access to business software (8%) also feature on SME’s list of unmet needs.
Accounting for 99.9% of the UK’s business population (5.6 million businesses), SMEs have disproportionately suffered from a bruising few years. Covid-19 restrictions coupled with post-Brexit supply chain disruption and staff shortages have forced many to borrow to the hilt. Bank of England research shows 33% of SMEs hold debt levels of more than 10 times their cash balances, versus 14% before the pandemic.
Seeking to alleviate these problems, the government recently launched ‘Help to Grow’ which is comprised of two programmes: an MBA-style management training course for SME leaders, and a discount of up to 50% towards the costs of buying approved software, worth up to £5,000. However, 79% of SMEs are not aware of the scheme. Among those who are, half (49%) don’t know what level of support is available and one in 10 have concerns about the scheme providing relevant support.
“Government doesn’t do much to support SMEs. Yet we do have to remember public sector and small businesses are completely different worlds,” says Chris Maslin, Founder at Maslins Ltd, an accountancy firm based in Tunbridge Wells.
“There simply hasn’t been enough stability in recent years. While no-one could have predicted the Covid pandemic, Brexit, changes around IR35 legislation and rising levels of inflation have all been exacerbated by either the government’s action or inaction. It has made it incredibly difficult to accurately forecast, so we can’t plan, and in turn, don’t invest in new technologies or tools that could support growth. As business owners, we’re constantly juggling to stay on top of things, rather than focusing on long-term improvements.”
Elona Mortimer-Zhika, CEO of IRIS says, “These YouGov findings clearly show us smaller businesses need more support at this significant stage in our economic recovery.
“Government backed programmes are vital to the UK’s economy. But at the pace businesses need support today, ‘Help to Grow’ – specifically, ‘Help to Grow: Digital’ – is not moving quick enough. After a delay of around six weeks, it’s finally launched.
“But the gap between what the government can pick up and where private enterprise currently steps in is substantial. There is more that can and must be done by big business. At IRIS, we understand the need to move fast to help small businesses navigate today’s market conditions. That’s why we have our ‘Time to Grow’ initiative, so SMEs can rapidly receive up to 50% off any of our software products and pursue digital transformation.”
IRIS develops and delivers software for HR, Payroll, Finance and other critical processes for businesses of all sizes, as well as for schools and accountants. Such software reduces admin, and improves reporting and analysis, giving business and education leaders the information they need to solve problems, make improvements, and create the time needed to do the work they are most valued for.