For the first time this year, small business confidence has held firm from one quarter to the next. The day after the Government announced its three-tier Covid restrictions, new research suggests the avoidance of a second national lockdown and certainty of direction until March has had a positive impact on UK small business confidence.
The findings come from a rolling study from Hitachi Capital Business Finance that has tracked small business growth forecasts every quarter for the last six years. Before Covid-19 struck – and even during the period of the Brexit vote – the percentage of small businesses predicting growth for the three months ahead stayed at between 36-39% for six consecutive quarters. In April 2020, this crashed overnight to just 14% of small businesses predicting growth.
The UK’s re-emergence from lockdown in July 2020 saw a sharp resurgence in confidence, with the percentage of small business owners predicting growth for the next three months doubling to 27%. The latest data conducted this week by Hitachi Capital reveals that the percentage of small businesses predicting significant and modest growth remains unchanged since summer months (27%). Further, the Q4 data reveals the third consecutive quarter where the percentage of small businesses fearing collapse has fallen – down from a high of 29% in Q2 2020 to a current figure of 12% for Q4 2020.
Joanna Morris, Head of Insight at Hitachi Capital Business Finance comments: “Despite the changed context from the summer months, with Covid numbers now again rising sharply, our data suggests small businesses are reacting positively to the current circumstances. The avoidance of national lockdown and the consensus that there will be restrictions through until March has at least given small business owners a degree of certainty against which to plan.
“Our figures for 2020 show that small business confidence has had sharp rises and falls since the pandemic struck. Our new research conducted the day after the Government’s announcement on three-tier restrictions gives the first reaction from the small business community. The stabilising of confidence levels between Q2 and Q3 is a really important development as it suggests smaller enterprises (that can operate) are adapting to the new reality – and accept the prospect that we may all be in for a long-haul fight against Covid.”
By sector the research also gives a welcome boost for the high street. Ahead of the critical Christmas period, there was a marked rise in the proportion of retail small businesses predicting growth (up from 27% to 35% in three months). The property and marketing services sectors also saw growth forecasts rise on Q2 levels.
Conversely, growth forecasts in manufacturing fell sharply (down from 30% to 23% in three months) – and the hospitality sector remained in a serious position; here only 18% of small business owners predicted any form of growth, whilst 53% predicted contraction. Overall 29% of hospitality sector small businesses predicted they would struggle to survive, more than double the national average (12%).