The latest FSB Small Business Index has found that times are tougher than ever for small firms after two difficult years.
The survey of 1,500 UK small firms, conducted by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), finds that SME confidence has been in negative territory for nine consecutive quarters - since July 2018. It comes as small business revenue growth hits an all-time low and staff lay-offs hit an all-time high.
The Q3 SBI confidence figure stands at -32.6, down 28 points on last quarter. Only a third (34%) of those surveyed at the end of last month expect their performance to improve over the coming three months. The significant majority (66%) expect performance to worsen.
The findings also show that a record one in four (25%) small firms reduced headcounts last quarter. An even higher proportion (29%) expect to make redundancies over the coming three months; 12% say they expect to let at least a quarter of their staff go.
COVID-related disruption has caused revenue growth to fall to its lowest recorded ebb, with more than half (56%) of those surveyed reporting a drop. A similar share (50%) expect revenues to fall next quarter.
The FSB is warning that any potential economic recovery is stalling ahead of a difficult trading period in the run-up to Christmas and the end of the Brexit transition period. More than half of exporters polled say international sales have fallen over the past three months.
Although the FSB has welcomed the chancellor's improvements to the current business and job support schemes, it is now calling for new measures, including:
- Support for those that have received no income support to date;
- A reduction in the cost of hiring new staff;
- Lessening the burden of business rates;
- Providing more resources for those looking to start a business for the first time.
"We must not forget that small firms were already under the cosh thanks to political uncertainty, rising costs and creaking infrastructure well before the Spring," said Mike Cherry, FSB national chairman.
"The chancellor made some very welcome adjustments to support measures last week … However, too many are still without the help they need to weather current disruption - not least company directors, the newly self-employed, those without premises and those further down supply chains in the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors. An ambitious rescue package for these groups is urgently needed.
"If we want small business owners to create jobs, we have to bring down the costs of employment, starting with employer national insurance contributions. If we want them to invest, innovate and expand, we have to alleviate the strain of wider government-imposed overheads, including those stemming from an outdated business rates system which continues to stifle too many community businesses all over the country."
Written by Rachel Miller.