News in brief: growth, Christmas, skills gap, family businesses

News in brief
News in brief

Majority of SMEs do not expect to grow in Q1 2016

Only 36% of UK SMEs expect to grow in the first quarter of 2016 according to business funder Bibby Financial Services (BFS).

BFS’ latest SME Confidence Tracker shows that growth expectations plummeted by ten per cent from the third to fourth quarter in 2015, while almost one in five (17%) small businesses surveyed expect sales to decline in the first three months of the year.

Of all parts of the UK, Scotland appears worst hit, with only 29% of Scottish business owners and decision-makers expecting sales to increase, compared to the national average of 36%.

Bibby Financial Services global chief executive David Postings said: “Recent ONS data shows growth in the UK economy slowed in 2015, with third quarter growth cut from 0.5% to 0.4%. Our latest SME Confidence Tracker reflects this dampened outlook amongst the country’s small businesses.”

SMEs made the most of Christmas sales to drive growth

Independent retailers across the board have shown growth off the back of post-Christmas sales, according to multichannel point-of-sale systems provider Intelligent Retail.

In addition to reports highlighting huge increases in online and mobile sales throughout 2015, SMEs secured surging in-store sales during the first core Christmas sales period. Between Boxing Day and 3 January, in-store sales were up 13% on the previous year, with New Year’s Day trading soaring by 36% as shoppers flocked into stores particularly in search of high-end fashion, toys and homeware.

Despite the rush into the shops to round off the holiday season, Intelligent Retail’s results for online and mobile sales figures for Black Friday in November 2015 saw online sales grow a staggering 97% across SMEs on average in comparison to 2014, compared to a gentler 10% rise in sales in stores between Black Friday and Christmas Eve.

Commenting on the latest results, David Mackley, Managing Director of Intelligent Retail, said: “It is interesting to see these varied stats across two of the biggest sales trading periods of the year. This reflects the timings of the periods and that, with Black Friday for example, online and mobile shopping can be considerably more flexible to fit in around people’s working life better than multiple trips to shops during busy periods.”

Skills gap crisis as baby boomers prepare to retire

UK SMEs should prepare for staffing issues as baby boomers near retirement, according to global recruiter, Randstad.

A recent report by Pensions Minister Ros Altmann illustrates that by 2022 the number of people in the workforce aged 50 to state pension age will have risen by 3.7 million to 13.8 million and the number aged 16-49 will have reduced by 700,000. If not planned for, the exodus of this generation will cause a severe second skills shortage as these older, and often more senior, workers leave the workforce en masse.

Randstad UK CEO Mark Bull comments: “The baby-boomers are nearing retirement, and we could have a huge skills shortage on our hands if these senior, established staff exit the workforce en masse. This additional squeeze on skills could be catastrophic – especially considering the current war for talent. Given the current skills gap, finding the right people for the right jobs is becoming increasingly difficult. Now more than ever employers should hold onto their high performers as tightly as they can, as it can take a long time to fill the gap left by senior staff when they leave.”

IFB calls on government to support family-run businesses

Family firms are being held back by a lack of basic infrastructure and inadequate broadband coverage, and the government must act now to give them a helping hand, according to the Institute for Family Business (IFB).

Raising productivity in the UK is seen as being crucial to boosting the country’s economic growth, with Chancellor George Osborne announcing his measures to deal with the issue just after last month’s Budget. However, according to the IFB, these efforts are not enough.

IFB director general Mark Hastings said: “The ideas, creativity and drive for business development are as strong as ever. But the basic infrastructure, roads and rail networks must be there to encourage it. Ensuring business has proper access to broadband is absolutely vital. The idea that business in modern Britain could get left behind because they cannot get connected is crazy.”

CBI letter to Sajid Javid calls for flexible and stable training system to bridge skills gap

The Confederation of British Industry has written to the Business Secretary Sajid Javid to offer advice on how the government can offer a higher standard of training necessary for business growth.

In the letter, director general Carolyn Fairbairn says that the recently announced apprenticeship levy signifies an opportunity to create a stable, business-led system that offers both growth for companies and chances for apprentices to be socially mobile.

“However,” she says, “There is also a risk that a levy increases business cost without increasing the stock of training overall. Proposed timescales are tight, but the importance of taking time to do this well outweighs any political imperative.”

Fairbairn laid out the key steps the CBI recommends to the government to embed within a new system for tackling the skills crisis:

  • The system must be driven by economic and business need
  • Flexibility by sector and size of firm is essential
  • The system should fund quality and reward commitment
  • Relevant and simple apprenticeship standards across all parts of the UK will remain key