An increasing number of the region's businesses are reporting anxieties over cashflow and cash reserves.
This is according to a recent survey by alternative lender Capify, which found over half of respondents lacked confidence in existing banking partners to meet future borrowing needs. 40% cited cashflow as a major concern, while a further 14% were worried specifically about non-payment of invoices.
Despite 61% reporting turnover growth in the past 12 months (compared to a national average of 56%), the survey, in which the majority of respondents reported turnover of between £1m and £10m, finds more challenging conditions for the first quarter of this year. Reflecting on business performance in Q1 2022, 34% of companies say they are behind on their targets.
These challenges appear to be contributing to a negative trend in the cash position of UK SMEs. Exactly half of the survey respondents based in the Capital and South East were concerned about the levels of cash in the bank, whilst 42% report having less than £50,000 in the bank. This is consistent with the national findings, where 43% of SMEs report having cash reserves of less that £50,000 - an increase of 6pp on Q4 2021.
John Rozenbroek, CFO/CCO at Capify, said: “Cashflow continues to be a real - and growing - issue for SMEs in London and the South East
“Like all of us, UK business owners were hoping that 2022 would see a return to ‘normal’ business operations and growth. Unfortunately, the impact of rising prices and the tragic war in Ukraine is adding further challenges and worries to this vital part of the Capital’s and country' economy. There is a growing sense that they need help”.
The survey also showed a lack of belief that the Treasury is doing enough to support businesses dealing with new challenges. 94% of UK SMEs believe that the Chancellor’s Spring Budget will have no positive impact on business stability
Despite those concerns, the survey found cautious optimism in the region’s SME respondents, with 61% projecting a growth in turnover in the next 12 months – a positive increase on the UK-wide benchmark of 57%.
Additionally, 58% of regional SME businesses expect to grow their headcount in 2022, with 22% aiming for growth of 20% or more. Attracting and retaining the right talent is clearly a major enabler for SME growth, with 43% looking to invest in their acquisition and development of personnel.
Mr Rozenbroek added: “It is encouraging to see businesses responding to the challenges of today with pragmatism and cautious optimism for the future. The fact that the majority of our respondents are projecting growth in 2022 is testament to the resilience they have had to develop over the past years.
“To ease the cash crunch and address the staffing shortages, access to finance will play a critical role over the coming months. It is likely that things will get worse before they get better for the UK SME community”
The survey received responses from UK SMEs across a wide range of sectors, including construction, manufacturing, professional services, retail and IT services. Almost 60% of respondents had been trading for over 15 years.