Small UK business owners are in their worst financial health since 2014, research has found, as a triple threat of rising bills, falling skills and lack of investment costs them billions of pounds in lost sales.
They have urged the government to ease the pressure by cutting taxes, business rates and incentivising training.
Challenger bank CYBG’s quarterly SME Health Check Index for the fourth quarter of 2017 dropped to a score of 42, down 48 per cent since 2014 and the fifth consecutive quarterly fall.
It found that business costs rose at an annual rate of 2.6 per cent during the quarter including higher employee wages and that borrowing confidence had dropped with lending falling 3.7 per cent year on year to £92.5bn.
UK skills shortage were also blamed for an average reported 18 per cent loss in revenues for 3.1m small businesses.
According to think tank Cebr that amounts to a total £7.3bn in annual losses enough to create 252,000 new jobs.
The research showed that more than half of small business owners believe the failure in finding the right talent is impacting on the bottom line.
Relatively new and medium-sized companies said they were being hurt most by the inability to find the right staff, with three in five companies employing 50 to 99 employees particularly feeling the strain.
Amongst those smaller employers that have not been able to access the relevant skills, almost a third claimed that they have been unable to grow their business due to the skills shortage.
“SMEs are the lifeblood of the UK, but confidence appears to be in short supply,” said David Duffy, chief executive of CYBG.
“Businesses are scaling back their investment and borrowing due to the wider economic uncertainty. The government’s business rate changes in last November’s budget were appreciated, but in the current environment, SMEs would welcome more incentives to address skills shortages or further tax reductions to manage costs and restore confidence.”
To help address these challenges a fifth of business owners said that either a cut in VAT or further corporation tax relief would deliver the biggest benefit in the current climate.
While the government has already made changes to business rates to support SMEs, 20 per cent of those employing up to 100 people stated that further business rate relief could help most to alleviate the pressure of increased costs.
On skills, almost 40 per cent of SMEs said that an incentive for employers to invest in existing employee training could help bridge current skills gaps. An equal amount suggested corporate tax incentives for training.
Among the smallest SMEs employing up to 20 employees, 42 per cent said they would like to see an increased personal tax allowance for individuals investing in their own training and skills development.
Costly VAT bills now account for over a fifth of HMRC income
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