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New research reveals risks to UK mid size businesses

The contribution of just under 30,000 businesses with an annual turnover of £10m to £149million is seriously at risk from a lack of identity, shortage of skills and talent and macro-economic uncertainty, a new benchmark report has revealed.

Released today, the report uses an unprecedented range of intelligence about UK mid size businesses’ priorities, strengths and challenges, and suggests MSBs have a lack of clear identity and a mind-set of caution and consolidation.

The findings, from the largest national study of UK mid size business (MSB) directors, have been produced by MSB Leaders in conjunction with Salford Business School and sponsored by national law firm Shoosmiths.

MSBLeaders Chair, and co-author of the report, Sarah McKenna explained, “We know MSBs make a disproportionate contribution – they make up only 1.5% of businesses yet contribute 1/3 of national turnover and a staggering 22% of tax receipts, she said.

“Our ground breaking research reveals MSBs’ lack of clear identity, combined with Brexit uncertainty, a skills and talent shortage and technology challenges have significantly impacted their growth ambition - leading to cautious innovation, strategies to consolidate and unrealised productivity gains. 

“These findings put at risk MSBs’ contribution to the UK economy (which will be felt most by regional communities who rely heavily on MSBs), their potential contribution to our national industrial strategy initiatives and the country’s global competitiveness.

“However this study, for the first time, provides an evidence-based classification for MSBs giving them a clear identity, as well as a framework for Government and industry to tailor policy, regulation, services and resources.”

Findings include:

  • The ideal classification for UK MSBs is £10m-£149m annual turnover and 50-499 employees. Notwithstanding outliers and significant overlap between segments, exacerbated in some cases by sector, this was the group with the most in common
  • Using this classification there are currently around 29,730 MSBs in the UK (in 2018)
  • Half of respondents who fit this classification in fact saw themselves as small
  • MSBs are predominantly in regional areas with 75% of MSBs outside London - beyond the South East, the highest concentrations of MSBs are in the North West, East and West Midlands
  • The sectors with the highest representation of MSBs are production (17%); wholesale (16.5%); construction (10%); professional, scientific and technical (9%); and business administration (8%)

Results also identified MSB unique strengths and challenges that must be addressed in order to return MSB confidence, restore their capability and protect their current and potential contributions. These included:

  • MSBs saw Brexit as a higher board priority (43.8%) compared to small (28.8%) and large business (29.2%) – this is no surprise with more than half of MSBs exporting to the EU
  • Strategy and planning were high on the board agenda (68.5%) with domestic expansion a priority for more than 40% of MSBs – possibly as a response to Brexit risks
  • Skills and talent shortage is the number one past, present and future issue for MSBs and they prioritise it more highly than small business or large enterprise
  • Skills and talent shortage was cited as the biggest barrier to MSB growth
  • A lack of age, gender and ethnicity diversity at board level continues to shape perspectives and be a major disadvantage

Professor David Spicer, Dean of Salford University Business School said: “Fuelling MSBs makes both economic and social sense. With more relevant and tailored support MSBs can play an even greater role in realizing our national economic industrial ambitions and reducing prosperity gaps felt regionally and nationally.

“The importance of providing MSBs with a classification and an identification of their challenges and opportunities – should not be underestimated in terms of the value it provides them in searching for relevant and effective solutions and support.”

Simon Boss, CEO at national law firm Shoosmiths, said: “MSBs make a significant contribution to the UK economy and will continue to be a crucial backbone for the country post-Brexit. That’s why it is important to understand what leaders of MSBs need and ensure relevant services and valuable support is in place. Many of our clients are MSBs, which is why we chose to sponsor this research, not only to improve our own services and support, but as a greater contribution to industry and the many regional economies within which we operate.

“We are fully invested in the findings of this research and plan to further support MSBs with a new information-hub. I invite other professional service providers to join us and provide the necessary recognition and support to help MSBs meet their strategic objectives.”

As part of the research, the team received 476 survey responses from business directors across the UK. Following this, qualitative research was conducted with one-to-one interviews and focus groups drawn from a random sample of MSB leaders nationally.

The full report can be found here.


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