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Business rates and high utility prices are holding SMEs back

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Research by the Forum of Private Business found that 30 per cent of companies plan to grow their workforce while 15 per cent expect to increase the hours of the workforce.

The most popular growth strategy, meanwhile, is developing the customer base – 60 per cent of firms are looking to target new customers. For 42 per cent of companies, improving customer service is a priority and new product development is important for 41 per cent.

“GDP figures are positive, employment is up and confidence among FPB members has lifted accordingly. With 1 in 3 looking to employ and 1 in 10 looking to increase hours, small businesses are showing a positive, though restrained, outlook for 2014,” comments Alexander Jackman, head of policy at the Forum of Private Business.

Time, money and expertise were cited as the main challenges facing many small firms who have had to downsize and manage ongoing cash flow issues to weather the storm caused by the financial downturn. 

Significantly, time is listed as the primary barrier, a change from “finance” which has been the main barrier throughout the recession. Thirty-six per cent of small businesses in total believe that time will continue to be a major challenge as they look to manage their business and realise their growth plans in the next 12 months. 

Cash continues to be an ongoing concern at 26 per cent and 13 per cent believe they are lacking in the necessary expertise.

Even with positive growth aspirations the research also highlighted that “the cost of doing business” remains a key concern for small firms and a significant obstacle for creating the business confidence needed for a sustainable recovery in 2014. 

Business rates continue to be a worry for many small business owners with 46 per cent seeing them as a continuing burden, followed by the rising cost of utilities at 40 per cent.

“That time is now the biggest barrier for businesses growth potential in 2014 sends a clear message to government,” continues Jackman. 

“Now is the time to build on the success of deregulation measures introduced and to really push on minimising the impact of some of the big employment law reforms currently in progress. A focus on creating stability of regulation for small businesses would be enormously helpful.”

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