A welcome dose of optimism

Small businesses – long held to be the lifeblood of the UK’s economy and even the backbone of UK plc – are telling researchers about their growth intentions. Younger business people in particular are looking to grow significantly.

And it’s not just wishful thinking. There are concrete signs sales are up, recruitment is beginning to take place again and export markets being sized up as people’s thoughts turn to reasons they went into business for themselves in the first place – growing and developing their own work.

Of course, tales of green shoots are almost bound to be met with caution and rightly so. But researchers from Strathclyde University, led by Professor Sara Carter, interviewed 18,500 small businesses and the FSB is confident SMEs have weathered the slowdown and are in a position to discard their survival packs and revert to plan A.

Encouraging signs indeed. All that small businesses need now is a helpful and responsive banking system plus a helpful and responsive government.

And that, of course, is where things start to fall down. Because the success of small businesses over the years has been down to the steely determination of their owners and managers and has been in spite of external factors.

The FSB report shows the big banks are held in less esteem than the last study two years ago, for instance. The government, meanwhile, makes encouraging noises, but the survey’s respondents gave short shrift to Business Links.

The Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Education and Skills needs to put real weight behind their ambitions to get the UK e-enabled. The FSB says SMEs are still failing to make the best use of internet-based technology. Respondents were most likely to use the internet to send emails (49%), transfer files or documents (28%) or gather information (26%). A mere 6% regularly used the internet to review business opportunities or bid for work, and only 9% regularly used the net for e-commerce purposes.

More shockingly, 15% of small businesses did not even own a computer.

Now there’s an area where the government really could help. Stop launching studies and put computers into businesses.

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