Managers of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the UK have identified legal requirements to automatically enrol staff into pension schemes as one of their biggest concerns for 2016.

2016 sees a large number of smaller businesses hit their staging date - the date by which they must be compliant with auto-enrolment. One in five considered the time and costs associated with the auto-enrolment pension scheme to have potential for a big impact on them, with respondents even saying they feel bullied into it, according to the survey by national small business support organisation, Exemplas.

One manager said: “We already have pensions here but now I’m being forced to give them to my staff by law; they are bullying you into it.”

Finding employees with appropriate skills and a lack of finance or funding were also highlighted as concerns for the year ahead. Nearly half (45%) of those surveyed said finding skilled employees, to fill junior roles in particular, were also singled out as a major concern. Managers complained that particularly in specific industries 'in terms of technical skills...those with the skills are either retiring or will not leave their current company".

Nearly two thirds (32%) said access to finance and gaining new business were their biggest worries.

Jill Barnes, the chief executive of Exemplas, said: “Our detailed research and conversations with managers from a range of UK SMEs shed light on a number of pressing issues facing the sector as we enter 2016. The coming year is likely to prove a challenge for small and medium–sized enterprises in many ways, from the perceived skills shortage among young recruits, to the ability to diversify and enter new markets, and also keep up with ever-changing industry specific regulations.

“The Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review has impacted funding provision for support and, with the closure of the Business Growth Service in particular, SMEs are struggling to access the support we know they need to grow. Understanding the key business challenges will help policy makers and business support organisations tailor this support to where it’s really needed."