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Azets' SME Barometer: 71% of SMEs in the South East optimistic about economic outlook

By Karolina Lasinska
11 August 2021
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Over 70% of SMEs in London and the South East (71%) feel positive about the UK’s economic outlook over the next 12 months and over half (60%) expect their profits to increase, according to the inaugural Azets' SME Barometer.  

This is despite the economy, Covid-19 and competition ranking in the top three threats for UK SMEs overall, according to the Azets research. Brexit remains firmly on the agenda in all regions apart from London and South East, where competition, the economy and Covid-19, in that order, were seen as bigger threats. 

There are further positive signs for SME growth and jobs across the UK as a whole with over half (56%) expecting to recruit more staff over the next year and 60% intending to invest over the next year.

While 71% of London and South East SMEs feel positive about the UK’s economic outlook, this compares with 60% in Scotland and 59% in the North East, North West and Yorkshire and Humberside. However, overall, the future for UK SMEs looks bright with 89% in London and the South East saying they expect to be trading in a year’s time. 4% in this region said they’re unlikely to be trading and 6% were unsure.

Azets recruits over 200 graduates and school leavers
William Payne, regional CEO for London and South East

"SMEs are key to the economic recovery in the UK and are navigating a range of issues: embracing digitalisation, a change in employee work and life balance, a need to address business planning for the 'new normal' and a hard look at their financial robustness," said William Payne, Regional CEO for London and the South East, Azets, for The Business Magazine.

As the UK went into lockdown last year, the Government stepped in to support businesses during the pandemic. On balance across the UK, SMEs felt well supported (71%). 

Key findings from the Azets report on SMEs in London and the South East:

  • Business models, the economy and international trade are the top three opportunities for SMEs in the South East and London
  • Financial health, adapting their business models and talent/skills acquisition were ranked as the top three priorities 
  • 25% of SMEs in this region had staff on furlough
  • 37% of SMEs in the South East and London had received liquidity assistance
  • 71% of SMEs in the region have felt well supported by the Government during the pandemic
  • 33% of SME business leaders in the South East and London say they have a poor work/life balance with 28% saying they spend over 13 hours a day working on or thinking about their business

The research, which was undertaken in April and May 2021, surveyed 760 Azets SME clients from a wide range of sectors across the UK and the Nordics (401 in the UK). 

Azets' CEO William Payne adds: "Our first SME barometer was conducted against a backdrop of uncertainty and upheaval. Now, with the vaccination programme accelerating across the UK and the rest of Europe and lockdown restrictions easing, SMEs are feeling much more optimistic about the prospect of an economic recovery and the service sector in particular here in the South is showing stronger and faster signs of recovery. However, much uncertainty remains. In summary, our research highlighted stubborn optimism among SMEs about the prospects of recovery, coupled with a pragmatic awareness of the need to adapt to the 'new normal' post-Covid world."

Azets Group

Azets is an international accounting, tax, audit, advisory and business services group, with 160 offices across the UK and Europe, over 6,500 employees and 600 Partners. In the UK, Azets is the largest regional accountancy and business adviser to SMEs and the 9th largest accountancy business.