By Daniel Hunter

Economic growth is being held back by the leaders of small firms having to spend more than 28 hours a week on administrative tasks rather than growing their business, according to new research from the Centre for Economic and Business Research (Cebr).

The study, conducted alongside Creative Auto Enrolment, found a potential £4.7 billion economic boost if business leaders could spend their time as they wished — going for growth.

The Cebr said that these ‘Swiss army knife leaders’ are juggling an array of different tasks each day. Almost three quarters (72%) of those surveyed say they would like to spend more time growing their business, with leaders also keen to spend more time on growth tasks such as marketing and strategic planning.

Admin and red tape is proving a huge drain on leaders’ time, as the third most time consuming task, when in fact leaders wish it could fall to seventh place.

The findings are launched as businesses with less than 57 employees are ‘staging’ for auto enrolment. Just a quarter of these business leaders (24%) say they are confident they will find time to implement auto enrolment and make it a success.

David White, managing director of Creative Auto Enrolment, said: “Time is precious for all of us but for the heroic leaders of the country’s small firms, time is a commodity they never have enough of. Our research shows they are frustrated by the tasks that are taking away from their primary focus — growing their business.

“Workplace pensions have been introduced with the best of intentions and will make a huge difference to everyone, but they shouldn’t get in the way of business growth. With auto enrolment taking each company up to 103 man days to implement, small businesses must find a solution that takes the burden of auto enrolment away, allowing them to focus on what’s important — running and growing their business.”

Small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) owners admit that, in an ideal world, they’d spend less than half the time they currently spend on admin and red tape. However for almost half (46%) the task of auto enrolment is categorised under this heading, highlighting the fact that the legislation is going to eat further into the time they dedicate to growth activities.

One in five business leaders are set to miss their preparations, either by ignoring auto enrolment completely (12%) or because they are unaware of what auto enrolment is (11%).

Admin and red tape is the top task that business leaders would delegate if they could, as just 8% feel that this task contributes to growth. When asked what is getting in the way of them spending time on more important tasks, the most popular answer was that having overall responsibility for these tasks means leaders are unable to delegate them (46%); a third (33%) said that they lack the resource to delegate in the business. More than a fifth admit that they put off tasks they know are important but don’t enjoy doing.