Almost six in 10 (58%) small businesses have said that they expect their performance to improve this quarter as Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown enters its next stage.
The latest small business index study from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) revealed that the majority of firms are forecasting an increase in revenues, the highest proportion since the summer of 2015.
While less than a third (31%) of small firms said they expected their performance to worsen in the next three months, fewer than one in four (24%) anticipate a fall in sales. The same figure stood at 84% at this time last year.
The report, which surveyed almost 1,700 business owners, posted the highest reading since autumn 2014, when it hit a reading of 41.
Its confidence measure rose to 27.3 during the first quarter of this year, up from -49.3 last quarter, and is in positive territory for the first time since the second quarter of 2018.
More than half (53%) of the FSB respondents also said they aspire to grow their firms over the next 12 months, the highest share since the third quarter of 2019, marking a 22 percentage point jump compared to the same period last year.
With the job retention scheme starting to wind down over the coming months, one in seven (14%) small firms with staff admitted that they are likely to make some or all of their team redundant this quarter.
“The certainty provided by the Government’s road-map is filling many small business owners with renewed confidence,” FSB national chairman Mike Cherry said.
“We live in hope that the virus stays in retreat so the remaining indicative dates for unlocking can be met, enabling our vital night time economies, offices and travel and tourism businesses to get back to it as well.”
He added: “It’s worrying to see such a sizeable proportion of employers fearing redundancies over the coming months. Initiatives like Kickstart, as well as incentives to take on apprentices and trainees, need to be delivered efficiently over the coming months to protect against a job market shock and support the young people that have disproportionately borne the brunt of rising unemployment.”
Today marks the first day in months that non-essential retailers and outdoor hospitality venues have been allowed to reopen in England and Wales, including indoor leisure facilities such as gyms, hairdressers, pubs and restaurants and zoos and theme parks.
Outside, six people or two households can meet and weddings and funerals can have up to 15 and 30 people, respectively. Children will be able to attend any indoor children's activity and care home visitors will increase to two per resident.
The move forms step two of the prime minister’s four-step plan to begin "cautiously but irreversibly" easing restrictions as the UK vaccine rollout gathers pace.
So far, 31.8 million people in the UK have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the latest government figures.
Step three of the PM’s plan is meant to see international travel open up by 17 May at the earliest.
However, Britain's travel and airline industries have lambasted new proposals published by the government's Global Travel Taskforce on Friday.
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The announcement includes a traffic light system, which categorises countries based on risk as well as COVID tests, even for people arriving from low-risk green destinations.
The need for those who are vaccinated to still be expected to pay for gold standard PCR tests on their return to Britain has been called a "hammer blow" for the travel industry.
Despite the announcement, the Global Travel Taskforce (GTTF) did not confirm whether foreign holidays will be permitted from 17 May, but it did suggest that it could still resume "in an accessible and affordable way."
The move has put more pressure on the sector which has already been struggling due to the pandemic.
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