The UK economy: views from small UK businesses

ended 10. May 2021

On Wednesday morning (12th May) at 07:00, the Office for National Statistics published its first estimate of Q1 GDP. Below are a selection of views from small businesses around the UK. 

12 responses from the Newspage community

"It was an epic first quarter of the year for creative and marketing agencies, with B2B activity increasing month-on-month due to increased confidence and many businesses having some surplus cash in the bank. "2021 could be a bounce-back year as people start to venture back out, return to work and above all spend. Safe to say, our high street and town centres won’t be the same again. With hybrid or fully remote working models being adopted at scale, some industries are going to lose out due to reduced volumes of footfall in city centres."
"I'm worried the economy has been falsely inflated and am apprehensive about what will happen when furlough ends in September. "Conventional economic wisdom tell us that a crash is around the corner yet the markets keep on rising, as do house prices. This is not sustainable and when the crash comes, as it inevitably will, we will have to hold onto our hats. "Mindset is so important and while many businesses are 'pivoting' and using the pandemic as a springboard for their business, others feel lost and don't know what to do. As a money coach, I've found myself delivering more workshops for the unemployed while at the same time securing many high-end clients who want more direction with their money."
"As someone who works with companies across all sectors, for some, such as IT and telecoms, things have been non-stop since January but for others the first three months of the year have been terrible. "Even if small businesses are having quiet periods, many haven't been resting on their laurels and have been focused on employee training and reviewing processes so that when they are back they can hit the ground running. "Understandably, the hospitality and events sector is only just starting to pick up and pubs, restaurants and bars are finally starting to exude a degree of optimism. From the 17th May going inside is going to make a massive difference: let's face it, our 'summer' is not very forgiving and, for now, that is discouraging people from going out to support local pubs and restaurants."
"In April 2020, after quarter of a century running my own business, I nearly lost everything, so it's a great feeling to still be in the game over a year since the pandemic struck. Best of all, the first 3-4 months of 2021 have shown some real promise for us. "Even a barnstorming 2021 won't make up for the massive financial loss we suffered last year but there are certainly signs that the business world is coming back to life. "There's considerably more optimism in the economy but still a fair bit of caution when it comes to businesses actually spending. "Fourteen months on from the start of the pandemic and it feels as if many organisations have resized and adapted, become a lot leaner and are now looking to the future. "We've moved our face-to-face training to virtual and, because of that, the most recent lockdown didn't affect us in the same way as the lockdowns last year. "We have almost got the same amount of income booked for this year as we did for the whole of last year, so we are quietly confident we will break even or make some profit in 2021."
"Being totally honest, while, as a corporate hospitality and live events agency, 80% of our income was unable to trade, we were thankfully busy supporting our clients to run virtual events and plan for future live event requirements. "The release of the roadmap to recovery has most definitely given people confidence to look at booking live events, along with the various pilot events that are taking place throughout all types of live events: business conferences, sporting events, music events and entertainment. "We are now working through live in-person event hospitality bookings and live business event enquiries, which is extremely positive. "As long as the roadmap goes according to plan, the 80% of our business that has been on ice for so long should return. Undoubtedly, event bookers and attendees may be feeling uncertain for some time, but we at least now have an additional revenue stream in virtual and hybrid events which we anticipate will continue if the last couple of months are anything to go by. "I think it would be naive to believe we will make an immediate recovery, although I do think organisations that have managed to weather the storm are in a strong position to enjoy the fruits of their hard work."
"Lockdown between January and April has been absolutely dire for my business. I was able to work online but being taught baby massage and baby yoga through a phone or laptop isn't something most new parents wanted to do. "It's been painfully slow since I've been able to open up. My in-person classes are still small due to social distancing so money is tight. "I expect the economy to bounce back as many people have more money to play around with having not spent much of the 80% of their salaries, although this seems to be going more on house renovations from what I can see. However, many people have also lost their jobs so that may impact the economy as we go forward. All I know is, it's been dire for me as I have received absolutely no help from the Government at all in over a year."
"As a staycation business, our customers were booking their summer holidays in desperation during the first three months of the year, like children grabbing the last packets of sweets in a corner shop. There were tears and tantrums when we had sold out of luxury holiday homes for July and August by the end of January. This was happening even before BoJo's roadmap to recovery, with a lot of uncertainty as to whether the bookings would actually take place. "Since 12th April, we have seen full occupancy across all of our Salcombe holiday homes to date, and 100% occupancy continues to mid-September. No doubt this will extend into October and the festive period. Our expectation for the rest of the year is to be well ahead of all targets set. The UK holiday remains the safest and surest travel option for 2021, but when the world does finally open up again, the staycation could suffer. While Salcombe is one of the most beautiful coastal locations in Europe, we sadly cannot supply le soleil with total certainty for les touristes."
"Having had to totally pivot our business during 2020, knowing we were starting 2021 in another lockdown felt very grim indeed. But things in the first quarter of 2021 were different. In the first national lockdown last year, the UK's businesses were suffering from shell shock, but during the latest lockdown battle-hardened businesses were using the time to regroup, plan and market their way out of it. "We picked up a lot of new business in the first quarter of the year following Boris Johnson's Roadmap announcement, and more again in April once the next stages of the roadmap began to roll out. We sense a feeling of buoyancy and hope, which is a great indicator of general feeling about the economy. Moving forwards, we expect hospitality and events businesses that have hung on in there through the various lockdowns will readily pick up business again. While it might not be a huge bounce-back, the general public has been cooped up, enduring months and months of life that have been grey and dull. People will be wanting to live a little, get out and about and spend time (and money) in ways that have been denied to them for so long. Spending by consumers at this level of the economy will then get many more cogs rolling forwards in other parts of the economy, so we feel very positive about the months ahead."
"The first three months of the year were not bad for business at all, as a result, I guess, of all those lockdown babies arriving and gifts being needed. Business fell off a cliff a bit in April as people have ventured out and the weather was so good but people deserve that and our idle shops certainly do. On a personal level, I'm optimistic for the rest of the year, as people will always be having babies so I feel like I’m in a good sector to weather the inevitable economic storms ahead. I’m scared about another lockdown once foreign travel opens up for holidays. I’m not sure any of us can take it again."
"As an IT specialist, our growth remained strong throughout the first quarter of 2021. We have seen a real need, or rather requirement, for IT services throughout the various stages of the pandemic. This has coincided with a massive rise in cyber attacks hitting businesses across the same period of time, which has also helped our industry maintain a degree of momentum. "When the economy does open up, it will do so with a hybrid working environment. This means every business will absolutely have to review its business technology strategy moving forward. They will have to be ready for any future changes that may be imposed on the way businesses operate, and technology will lead those changes. With that in mind, we're optimistic about the future."
"As an online retailer in the on-demand grocery delivery sector, we've been fortunate to see a lot of momentum during the initial months of the year. "We've been observing that customers are looking to spend more time outdoors and they're looking forward to making short to medium term plans with more confidence in their spending. "We've seen increased demand for our specific services, but we attribute this to the business model, experience and the demand for the category. "Even though people have now started eating out and spending more time outdoors, this did not negatively impact our business as the option of saving time and removing the hassle of supermarket shopping remains appealing for our customers. "We're expecting a gradual and slow recovery. Households in debt, rising unemployment and financial uncertainty is here to stay but we hold a rational optimism around the impacted industries returning back to work, increasing adaptation to the new normal and rising consumer confidence."
"The phrase I would use to describe the first quarter of 2021 would be 'economically stagnant'. In my experience as a small business owner myself but also a consultant, there was a feeling of fatigue in the market during the first three months of the year. "But for us, from April, it has been like a scene from the end of term on High School Musical. The doors flew open and the phone hasn't stopped ringing since. We are busier now than we have been for well over a year and it feels great. "I think confidence is improving but to say that it will be plain sailing for the rest of the year would be a little remiss: we've got a long way to go and what happens if there is another lockdown in the winter months? That said, the one thing that is different is that we are all more prepared this time."