University of Nottingham (c)2005
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Thursday, May 5th, 2005



Survey BB83 April 2005

The topics covered in the 83rd UK Business Barometer Survey were: the UK road infrastructure; training needs analyses; 'elearning'; the best route to greater growth; local business crime prevention initiatives; follow up questions on media coverage for smaller businesses; managing waste paper; breaking for lunch; developing new products/services.

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  • About the respondents

    The UK Business Barometer surveys the people running small and medium size businesses. In the April survey 147 respondents were drawn with the following population characteristics:

    Sector
    Production & Manufacturing Distribution Services Total
    28.1% 8.9% 63.0% 100.0%


    Turnover (£)
    < 1 M 1M-3M >3M Total
    71.9% 17.8% 10.3% 100.0%


    Number of Full-time Employees
    1-10 11-20 21-50 51-100 100+ Grand Total
    55.1% 30.1% 6.8% 4.1% 3.4% 100.0%


  • Survey Findings

  • Figures published by DEFRA show that motor vehicle traffic increased by 19% between 1990 and 1993. Traffic density and congestion also increased, because total road length increased by only around ½ % p.a. (motorway length is only about 85% of total road length). The actual average condition of roads has been found to have improved between 2000 and 2004, as measured by the DfT Roads Defects Index.

    At the same time, road traffic intensity, which measures the ratio of vehicle-miles to Gross Domestic Product, actually fell by 12% over the same period.

    The UKBB survey for April asked panellists how the nature and condition of the UK road infrastructure is impacting upon their businesses. The same question was also asked of panellists to the parallel UK Business Advisers Barometer survey (UKBAB). There was clear correspondence between the two sets of responses - few of either set of panellists see it as getting better: less than 5% from the UKBB and less than 6% of the UKBAB. Although 32% of UKBB respondents and 27% of UKBAB respondents don't see it as getting either better or worse, nearly 59% of UKBB respondents and 64% of UKBAB respondents see it as getting either worse or very much worse. Specific comment from respondents included the frustration caused by poor state of repair of some local roads, the hold-ups due to huge slow-moving articulated lorries (especially when sticking to their speed limits!). The speed restriction around the Heathrow junction of the M25 was singled out as adding to stress levels and journey time by one respondent.



    Many businesses hope to maintain competitive advantage and efficiency through the skills of their personnel, but for smaller businesses, training can present real short-term costs and time difficulties and this provides a disincentive from facing up to longer term needs. Even so, 60% of respondents to the April BB survey have conducted an analysis of training needs within the last year, and 12% did so in the preceding year. Only 12% say they have never analysed their training needs.



    The term 'elearning', computer-based learning, can be applied to a range of teaching/learning techniques from the individual using a CD ROM on a home PC to acquire a skill for leisure of professional purpose, to a member of the workforce undertaking a course either individually over the internet or via a training centre LAN under supervision of a tutor. Given this wide range, the question about whether elearning is effective in developing specific employment skills would be bound to have a fairly wide interpretation by different members of the panel, and therefore the range of responses selected was likely to be dispersed. So it proved, with 32% saying elearning is effective, 24% saying it is neither effective nor ineffective and 16% saying it is ineffective, while 18% didn't know. This question did stimulate some further comments, providing closely thought-out viewpoints including one respondent who pointed out that elearning is self-paced so learners are on their own and it is easy to lose motivation, leading to non-completion of the course. The full set of comments is attached to this analysis. Looking forward, only 12% of respondents plan to increase their use of elearning for their businesses, 10% plan to increase by up to 50% and only 1% plan to increase by more than 50%.



  • Following the three questions on training, it was interesting to note that in response to the question on the best route to greater business growth, 22% thought that increasing the skills of present staff through training would be best, although a greater proportion, 28%, thought that product/service improvement would be best. 16% see access to a larger pool of skilled workers from which to recruit as providing their hope, while 33% don't think any of these is the key to greater growth.



  • The government and local authorities have been introducing information and incentives to encourage local business crime prevention initiatives over the last four years. The April survey asked to what extent panellists of both the UKBB and the UKBAB thought that local initiatives are effective in reducing crime against business. Only 10% of BB respondents answered with 'highly' or relatively highly (category 2), while 37% answered with 'not at all' or not much (category 4), while 37% didn't know. Similarly, 10% of BAB respondents answered with 'highly' or relatively highly (category 2), while 51% of UKBAB answered with 'not at all' or not much (category 4) and 19% said 'don't know'.



    In March, UKBAB panellists were asked whether they felt that the issues confronted by smaller businesses are given adequate coverage in the media, and over 70% responded that they did not think so. In the April survey we looked to see what type of media was particularly inadequate in the eyes of smaller businesses and advisers responding to the UKBB and the UKBAB. We also asked how often both groups offered their news and views to local media. The broadsheet papers and TV were those that respondents to both surveys would most like to improve their small business coverage, and these were followed by local newspapers in the case of the UKBB and radio in the case of the UKBAB. In terms of helping coverage by contacting media, 38% of UKBB respondents said they frequently or sometimes did so; the corresponding figure for the UKBAB was 45%.





    Paper sustainability is one of the areas that has been under the spotlight post-Kyoto. A recent survey by the printer company Lexmark found that £230million worth of printed paper is wasted in British businesses every year, and also found that the fewer the number of employees in a company, the more paper each employee had on their desks. We asked the same question in both the UKBB and the UKBAB, and found that a higher percentage of respondents to the UKBB rated themselves as more efficient compared to respondents to the UKBAB, and well over 65% of both sets of respondents' answers were in the top three categories.



    Many advisers on productivity say that there are productivity losses in the afternoon if workers do not take a break at lunchtime. The estimated average lunchbreak in the UK has now fallen to 27 minutes, but many of our respondents never take any lunchbreak. 13% of UKBB respondents and 11% of UKBAB respondents fall into this category. At the other end of the scale, 15% of UKBB and 7% of UKBAB respondents always take a break at lunchtime.



    There was a marked difference in between our two surveys in the response to a question on the development of new products and services. 77% of respondents to the UKBB actively seek opportunities for the development of new products/services to a high or reasonably high extent. However, only 32% of Business Advisers responding to the UKBAB think that their clients actively seek opportunities for the development of new products/services to the same degree.



    Openness to customers' requirements was agreed to be the main motive for developing new products/services by similar proportions of UKBB and UKBAB respondents, 37% and 35% respectively. But whereas 'Response to observed opportunities' was the reply by 55% of UKBB respondents, only 41% of UKBAB respondents believed this. Not many UKBB respondents believe they mainly react to competitor activity - only 6%, but 23% of UKBAB respondents think this is the case. (UKBAB panellists were not asked to rate 'response to business advice' as a main motive).



    Listed below are extracts from feedback received in Survey BB83 April 2005.

    Comments are listed under sector headings.

    Views expressed are those of individual panellists and may not represent those of the University.

    Production and Manufacturing

    The ability to see the results is vitally important - it makes the process worth while.

    Radio 4's Business news at 6:15am is nearly always geared to large corps and feature interviews with high powered business men. I would like to hear more features on small businesses. Very interesting question by the way.

    Re question 6 (local business crime prevention initiatives), we have 7/24 monitored CCTV on our Ind. Park,crime has decreased by over 65%

    Business Services

    Red tape still increasing and IR web site not user friendly.

    Many of the minor roads in North Bucks are in a bad state of repair, which has a detrimental effect on my car, and the main roads are very busy with huge slow-moving articulated lorries. Tesco lorries stick strictly to the 40 mph speed limit and cause a convoy of frustrated drivers in their wake. I don't drive around the M25 much, but when I do the 40-mph restriction around Heathrow junctions adds to the journey time and stress levels.

    E-training seems fine in principle, but because it is self-paced and learners are on their own (rather than in a group) it is easy to miss sessions and lose motivation leading to non completion of the course.

    I put about 20% of my scrap printed paper back in the printer, another 20% I use to scribble on, and the rest is recycled.

    I used to eat at my desk, but when I changed jobs and had a lunch break, I found that I was much awake and more productive in the afternoon.

    The question on e-learning was necessarily black or white. If e-learning is part of a blended learning approach it usually can play a part. But usually it is used stand-alone. For many reasons this is usually a poor way of training. Businesses are suckered by the cost argument but don't measure the outcomes of e-learning. It rarely works as effectively as other forms of training.

    Product innovation driven by competitive pressures and the need to build and maintain profits

    A good set of questions and an equally good set of options to choose from.

    Other

    Ask other small business owners whether the new rules re. corporation tax (splitting evenly between companies in same ownership) will discourage enterprise.

    Retail

    For the right individual Provided the quality of e training good it can be very effective.