Small businesses scale back growth plans for 2017

AXA Business Insurance's latest temperature check of small businesses in the wake of the Brexit result reveals a mood of calm prevails. However, numbers expecting to grow in 2017 are severely down on previous years, and few have an appetite for the extra funding pledged in yesterday's Autumn Statement.

28 November 2016

Posted in Product

As 2016 draws to a close, small businesses are calmly assessing the possible impact of the Brexit negotiations in the new year. On the surface, there is little sign of panic, as fifty-three% say they foresee no impact at all, and 14% expect to do better as a result.

The turbulence of previous months has not significantly affected profits either: 44% have seen no change in profitability since January – and 35% say their profits are actually up. Falling profits are reported by 21% of businesses for year-to-date.

Growth plans for 2017 massively scaled back

The survey found a significant fall in growth expectations for 2017. Just 42% of small businesses expect to grow in 2017 – compared to a high of 63% at the end of 2013, and 55% last year.

Most stark is the effect on hiring plans: just 10% of small businesses will take on new employees next year (38% three years ago). Numbers planning to invest in business assets are also down from 52% to 29%.

And while the government has announced an extra £400 billion of funding through the British Business Bank, AXA's research suggests a low appetite for taking on finance. Twenty eight per cent of small businesses say they will seek finance in the coming year, but for most it will be a survival mechanism (overdrafts or loans from friends and family), rather than investment for growth.

Just four per cent of small businesses say they will seek finance through government backed schemes, and just 0.8% from the British Business Bank specifically.

Darrell Sansom, Managing Director, AXA Business Insurance

It is highly encouraging to see how coolly small businesses are responding to the uncertainty at the macroeconomic level. We have found no sense of pending disaster or panic, but they are putting the brakes on their plans for future growth.

We've found time and again that small businesses are taking personal loans, credit cards and overdrafts as their main source of finance, rather than turning to the schemes designed for them. The money pledged for small businesses in the Autumn Statement has to be welcomed, but if they don't receive some reassurance about the economy in the longer term, they won't want to over-commit themselves by taking this finance on.

Darrell Sansom, Managing Director at AXA Business Insurance