Small business confidence surges to highest level since 2014


As non-essential retail, pubs, beauty salons and more reopen their doors after over four months, small businesses are more positive about their prospects than ever.

According to the latest study by the Federation of Small Businesses, two-thirds of respondents expect their performance to improve between April and June while the UK SBI confidence measure has risen to +27.3 for this quarter.

This is the highest level recorded by the index since the third quarter of 2014, when it hit +41, and is the first time it has since positive territory since the second quarter of 2018.

This week, non-essential retail, salons and pubs reopened their doors with new restrictions

This week, non-essential retail, salons and pubs reopened their doors with new restrictions

The new figure is a dramatic increase on the period between October and December, when it stood at -49.3, and is largely down to more clarity on the future of the economy and plans for getting back to ‘normality’.

Out of the 1,700 business owners surveyed, more than half (51 per cent) expect their revenues to increase over the coming three months, the highest proportion recorded since the summer of 2015. 

Fewer than one in four (24 per cent) expect sales to fall, but this is still a significant change in attitude as the same figure stood at 84 per cent at this time last year.

Meanwhile 53 per cent of respondents aspire to grow their firms over the next 12 months, be that through more members of staff, product or service offering or expanding their reach.

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  • All non-essential shops will be allowed to reopen, as will hairdressers, beauty salons, gyms and swimming pools, with no group classes allowed
  • Pubs, restaurants and cafes can reopen for outdoor service, but will have to wait until at least May 17 to serve customers indoors
  • Mass testing to be available, with everyone urged to take two tests per week
  • New care home rules will allow residents to have two visitors, rather than just one
  • Self-catering accommodation, including campsites, can reopen, but hotels and B&Bs must remain closed until at least May 17
  • Shops will be allowed to stay open until 10pm, six days a week, in a bid to reduce crowding
  • The maximum number of people allowed to attend weddings and wakes will rise from six to 15
  • Public buildings can reopen, as can outdoor attractions such as theme parks and zoos
  • Controversial hospitality rules such as the 10pm curfew and requirement to buy a ‘substantial meal’ with alcohol will be dropped
  • Clothes shops will be allowed to reopen their changing rooms for the first time in more than a year
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Still banned 

Until May 17 at the earliest: Gatherings of up to 30 people outdoors, with the rule of six and two-household rule indoors; pubs and restaurants will reopen indoors; and controlled indoor events of up to 1,000 people or 50 per cent of a venue’s capacity, whichever is lower, will be permitted

Outdoor events will be allowed to have a capacity of 50 per cent or 4,000 people, whichever is lower; while special provisions will be made for large, outdoor, seated venues where crowds can be spaced out, with up to 10,000 people or 25 per cent of total seated capacity, whichever is lower

Up to 30 people will be allowed to attend weddings, receptions, funerals, and commemorative events, including wakes. Indoor gatherings like exercise classes will be given the go ahead

Until June 21 at the earliest: All legal limits on social contact will be lifted and nightclubs reopened.

This is also the highest share seen since the third quarter of 2019, while marking a 22 percentage point 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 per cent) small firms with staff say they are likely to make some or all of their team redundant this quarter.

Mike Cherry, the national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: ‘It’s fantastic that our shops, hairdressers and gyms can get back to doing what they do best all over England from Monday this week, with some restrictions easing in other parts of the UK as well.

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‘The certainty provided by the Government’s road-map is filling many small business owners with renewed confidence. We live in hope that the virus stays in retreat so the remaining indicative 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.

‘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 a job market shock and support the young people that have disproportionately borne the brunt of rising unemployment.’

Cherry added that policymakers also needed to look at measures to encourage hiring activity. Bringing down costs such as employer national insurance contributions, which essentially serve as a jobs tax, would certainly help, he said. 

He added: ‘With emergency loan repayments now starting to bite, 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 constructive ways forward.

‘Lockdowns have caused our £23billion 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.

‘As the economy shifts, support measures need to evolve – particularly where support for start-ups is concerned. The Help to Grow initiative should be urgently reformed in order to both widen its support remit and make it open to all small business owners as they start out, not just those that already have staff.’

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‘We’re looking forward to welcoming everyone back!’  

Like many small businesses reopening their doors, Roberto Pintus, general manager of The Varsity Hotel & Spa Cambridge, said he is very excited to open its rooftop terrace, coined as the ‘most romantic location in the city’.

He said: ‘Our outdoor space will initially only operate table service, with our seating adequately spaced and sanitiser stations installed throughout. 

‘We will be reopening in accordance with the government’s safety instructions, and will be modifying our operations to keep everyone safe, whilst ensuring guests still have an enjoyable and memorable time. 

The Varsity Hotel in Cambridge is home to the popular Roof Terrace which reopened yesterday

The Varsity Hotel in Cambridge is home to the popular Roof Terrace which reopened yesterday

From this week, guests will also be able to access the hotel’s spa treatments and gym. It is operating on a first-come, first-serve basis, but Roberto said the response has been very positive so far and he has received a number of enquiries about coming to visit already.

He added: ‘The lockdown has been tough and challenging for us all but we’ve been pleased with the support of the furlough scheme in that we’ve managed to keep all our staff. 

‘We hope to see increased government support in terms of financial assistance, so we can continue to maintain the jobs at the hotel, as well as jobs with our existing suppliers.’

Small Business Essentials

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