Western Daily Press
Survey shows businesses are looking beyond Covid
HOW confident do you feel about your business prospects for the next few months?
How have your investment, growth or recruitment plans been affected by Covid? And how soon do you think you will feel as though you are fully through this most challenging of battles?
If you ask these, or other related questions, to virtually any SME owner here in the West you will probably get a different answer so it is difficult to really gauge how our small businesses are feeling at the moment.
That is why, many years ago, the FSB, as Britain’s biggest business representation group, decided every quarter to survey our members about their confidence levels so we could try to get a regular, easily comparable snapshot of how the small business community is feeling about their current and future prospects.
The FSB’s Small Business Index (SBI) is now a report that is eagerly anticipated by politicians and other stakeholders because it is seen as being a reliable barometer of what SMEs really feel at a specific time.
As such, our latest, somewhat dramatic, figures are really worth remarking on.
Throughout 2020, as you would probably expect, our survey recorded record-breaking low figures. Confidence in business terms was on the floor and even many very stable businesses were wondering whether they would ever recover from the ongoing onslaught that Covid delivered.
However, as was reported in the Western Daily Press last week, the latest FSB survey conducted at the end of March saw a quite remarkable turnaround. The previous one in December 2020 saw confidence levels deep into the worrying minus territory, but they have bounced back here in the South West – and across the country as a whole – in somewhat spectacular style as we recorded the best confidence figures since the tail-end of 2014.
It must be stressed straight away that that doesn’t mean that businesses don’t have issues or concerns – or that they aren’t anticipating many more going forward – but it does mean that particularly compared to the darkest days of the lockdown a lot of businesses are now finally starting to look, probably for the first time in a year, beyond Covid and into the new business world we are all looking forward to being an active part of.
Our report showed that here in the South West businesses are more optimistic about investment, jobs and growth. Our FSB Policy representative for the region, Rowsonara Begum, said in her introduction to the local report that “confidence breeds confidence” so we can only hope our figures start to reassure many that the worst days of this business damaging period could be behind us.
Yes, we must all remain cautious – the problems business face are still a long way from being in the rear-view mirror - but these figures are still a very encouraging sign. And that is because when small businesses start feeling good about their own prospects then the whole economy can start to feel that little bit more relaxed too.
Lee Nathan is the FSB South West regional chairman. His creative business has offices in Bristol and Devon.