Jessica Fino 26 Nov 2018 10:51am

Brexit and late payments top SMEs' concerns

UK SMEs have seen their confidence drop by 20% since last year, with uncertainty around Brexit and an increase in late payments having the most impact

Almost half (41%) of the SMEs surveyed by Dun & Brandstreet believed Brexit could negatively impact their ability to recruit the right talent in the future, and 40% said that Brexit has significantly slowed their growth.

Nearly two thirds (64%) told the data company that the outcome of Brexit is the most important factor for their success.

The survey found that 37% of UK SMEs have planned on cancelling or postponing plans during the last year as a direct result of Brexit. Moreover, 31% admitted they have considered leaving the country.

However the data company said views on the impact of Brexit vary according to business size and revenue. While 14% of businesses with a turnover of up to £100,000 report they have been significantly impacted, this rises to 50% of those with £500m or more.

Meanwhile, 67% said the introduction of GDPR has impacted their growth. Professional services firms were the most hurt, with 83% saying they have been affected.

The fluctuating value of the pound has also impacted professional services the most, with 80% of those surveyed saying it has hurt their business during the past year.

Late payments were also a big concern among small businesses, as over the past 12 months, they were owed an average of £80,141, nearly a quarter more than in 2017. In London, the average overdue payment stood at £107,766.

Professional services were the second sector most hit, with £82,000 owed on average, just behind health, which was owed £89.000.

Almost half (48%) of SMEs said that overdue payments put their business at risk of failure, and 63% said late payments have the most significant impact on their business of any external factor.

More than a third (35%) said that talent is the factor with the biggest impact on their success.

According to the survey, business leaders are prioritising recruiting the right talent – for 37% it will be their main priority next year.

But 41% warned that Brexit may hinder their ability to recruit the right talent in the future.

Ed Thorne, Dun & Bradstreet’s managing director, said, “Recruiting people with the right skills is a concern for small businesses, and with Brexit potentially limiting the candidates available, SMEs may face competition for talent in the future. One solution is to look at investing and upskilling existing staff where possible and maximising local UK resources.”

However, 54% of SMEs still believe the UK is a great place to start a small business and 55% are increasingly confident in their future success.

Tim Vine, head of European trade credit at Dun & Bradstreet, said, “There’s no doubt the months ahead will continue to be challenging as we move towards the Brexit deadline. Small business leaders are having to contend with scenario planning on top of dealing with day to day priorities such as cash flow management, late payments and securing finance for future growth.

“Despite the range of factors at play, positively, over half of the businesses we spoke to were confident that their business can achieve financial growth over the next five years,” he added.