Friday, March 10th, 2005

The February survey asked for views on late payment, switching banks, vacancies, training, projected sales, conditions in the respondents' own sectors of the economy, the business impact if the Internet were to collapse, and use of sector/business membership organisations.

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  • About the respondents

    The UK Business Barometer surveys the people running small and medium size businesses. In the February survey 161 respondents were drawn with the following population characteristics:

    Production & Manufacturing Distribution Services Total
    24.7% 8.6% 66.7% 100.0%

    Turnover ()
    < 1 M 1M-3M >3M Total
    72.8% 17.3% 9.9% 100.0%

    Number of Full-time Employees
    1-10 11-20 21-50 51-100 100+ Grand Total
    57.4% 30.8% 5.6% 3.1% 3.1% 100.0%

  • Survey Findings

  • Legislation on late payment came into effect first in November 1998, introducing a statutory right for small businesses to claim interest on late payments due from large businesses. This was extended to payments due from other small businesses in November 2000, and then further extended by an amendment adding the right to claim reasonable costs of debt recovery and simplifying the calculation of statutory interest.

    We first asked about the level of concern experienced by respondents over late payment in June 2000, before the latter two enhancements to the legislation came in, and the response given then is shown below. This indicates that in June 2000 late payment was an issue of concern to a significant or moderately significant extent for 68% of respondents, whereas in February 2005, this percentage has decreased to 52%.

    In the parallel monthly survey of business advisers, the UKBAB, the question was related to advisers' clients and the results are shown for comparison with the UKBB results. These show that business advisers assess that for 65% of their clients late payment is an issue of concern to a significant or moderately significant extent.

    55% of UKBB and 70% of UKBAB think there has been no change in the difficulty in switching banks over the last year, while 26% of UKBB and 11% of UKBAB think it is actually much more difficult or more difficult than a year ago, after adjusting for the 48% of respondents to the UKBB and the 16% of UKBAB respondents who don't know. We last asked this question in November 2003 and at that time 70% of respondents to the UKBB thought the level of difficulty was unchanged and 19% thought it had become more difficult, after adjusting for the 32% who didn't know.

    There has been an increase in the percentage of respondents with hard to fill vacancies between May 2003 and February 2005, from 25% to 39%, but over the next six months 74% of respondents expect their total number of vacancies to stay constant.

  • Two questions on training providers were geared towards potential skills and learning acquisition: the response to the first shows that 41% of respondents strongly or relatively strongly need externally provided training for their business, while 16% of respondents regularly or relatively regularly look to Universities and further education colleges for provision of training. Most respondents, 53%, look in that direction hardly ever, if at all, and 16% found the question was not applicable to them.

  • 44% of respondents expect sales in the first quarter of 2005 to be more or much more buoyant. However, compared to January 2004, a slightly lower percentage of respondents expect sales to be more or much more buoyant with small increases in percentages expecting sales to be the same and much less buoyant. The changes in percentages are less than 4% in any category.

    Businesses within a particular industry often have a more accurate view of changing conditions than outside commentators. Respondents were asked for their own views of the sector of the economy in which they operate and compared to the last time this question was asked, September 2001, results were more optimistic. 34% expect their sector to grow either somewhat or significantly, compared to 22% back in 2001, and 42% expect their sector to remain stable, compared with 34% then.

    The Internet seems to be becoming more embedded in business, at least among the respondents to the UKBB. Three years ago we asked the same question as this month and the responses indicate that the percentage of businesses for which a collapse of the Internet would have no impact has decreased from 20% to 8%, while those for which it would be catastrophic, or nearly catastrophic, has increased from 26% to 55%.

    The final three questions in the February 2005 survey were about membership organisations for businesses - 80% of respondents belong to one. Of respondents who belong to a membership organisation, 55% use its services either weekly or monthly, but 17% only use them annually or less. From those who do belong to a membership organisation, 37% rate the importance of benefits as important or as very highly important or even crucial, 23% see them as either marginal or of no benefit.

    Listed below are extracts from feedback received in Survey BB81February 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

    A small note about the question about looking to uni's etc for trained staff. Our vacancy filling problem is because we can't find staff with good experience of packaging/printing machine operation. Uni's would be a good source for our I.T. and accounts positions, but these are filled by family members of the business.

    The biggest problems UK industry face is the minimum wage as I feel the government has lost site of costs to SME.

    Business Services

    We were corporate members of 2 trade organisations. We joined to help our core discipline become seen as more professional and to gain access to training courses. We left because we got little value for money as we were based out of London -where the bulk of the profession is based, there was little on offer for provincial firms. All that I got out of our membership was hassle (1) from competitors who maliciously reported us for unethical activity-wrongly. The Association had to take the complaint seriously and had to investigate, we were exonerated after being called to a formal hearing and having to take legal advise. And then (2) by a client who did not want to pay his bills. When we took him to the Small Claims Court and won, having resigned our membership of the trade associations but having omitted and overlooked the need to amend or destroy our old letterhead, we were reported to Trading Standards. Given that we resigned because the costs were high and benefit was very marginal and that these issues caused me significant worries, costs and legal expenses. I would not ever join a trade association again!!!!!!

    Some of the questions are not applicable as I am a sole trader and intend to remain so in perpetuity. The volume of legislation regarding the 'rights' of employees in this country can have only this one consequence. What about the 'rights' of those who take the risk of starting a business to give these people the opportunity to be employed?