Sage, the market leader in cloud business management solutions and the UK’s largest payroll provider, today releases the first edition of the SMB Tracker, highlighting the latest weekly sentiment from businesses across the UK. This week the Tracker finds that a greater proportion of the UK’s small and medium sized businesses may have either applied or intend to apply for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (JRS).

The SMB Tracker seeks to highlight the unprecedented implications of the COVID-19 outbreak on UK Business. Of the 500 SMBs surveyed, two thirds confirmed they have either applied or intend to apply to furlough employees, with calls to maintain a flexible scheme that would allow furloughed workers to work at reduced hours beyond June.

This week, key findings include:

  • If the Job Retention Scheme ends in June, only 35% of SMBs are confident of being able to pay workers’ wages at the same level as before the crisis, and 38% will have to reduce hours and wages for some or all workers.
  • Appetite for Government-backed loans is increasing – 32% of SMBs would currently consider applying for a Government backed loan, an increase from 20% two weeks ago.
  • Only 36% of SMBs have started planning for a partial lifting of restrictions in the coming weeks. In order to plan for operating over the next three months, 41% of businesses say they need more information from Government.

Sabby Gill, Managing Director of UK&I at Sage said: “From our conversations with customers, we know it is critical SMBs have access to the grants they are entitled to and quickly to aid their cashflow, which will now be significantly stretched for many. The JRS scheme provides a vital lifeline to employees within businesses of all sizes – and we are pleased it has been extended. Yet the extension may not now go far enough, as businesses will not likely to return to business as usual.

“If the JRS ends in June as currently planned, over a third will need to reduce hours and wages for some or all employees. These businesses are now calling for a flexible approach, allowing furloughed workers to get back to work at reduced hours, bring back much needed economic activity – with their jobs protected.

“As the payroll software provider for half of the UK’s private businesses, we know that the most expensive cost to any business is its people. The 66% of companies who have, or will look to furlough employees, represents a substantial part of the UK’s workforce, and we must work together to support them in mitigating redundancies down the line.”

Additional insights from the SMB Tracker, published each Thursday, include:

  • SMBs are focused on preparedness to weather the next six months: Almost half of SMBs feel prepared to deal with the outbreak over the next six months – while 1 in 5 currently do not.
  • There has been a significant operational impact – and fundamental change is expected: Almost half of SMBs (42%) are working at less than 50% capacity due to the pandemic. The biggest factor for this is reduced customer demand (54%).
  • A rise in stress for employees, combined with lower productivity: 1 in 2 SMBs have reported a surge in stress levels among employees. Of those surveyed, 37% have witnessed a decline in productivity and 39% have experienced lower levels of motivation.
  • Most SMBs have not started to plan for lifting of the lockdown: Only 36% of SMBs have started planning for a partial lifting of restrictions in the coming weeks. In order to plan for operating over the next three months, 41% of businesses say they need more information from Government.
  • SMBs are widely supportive of government measures to support business: 57% of SMB applications are over 7/10 satisfied with the JRS process. Support for the continuation of social distancing measures also remains strong – a third of businesses are in favour of maintaining the existing social distancing measures beyond the next three months.
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