SMALL and medium-sized businesses in Wales say they are not feeling a slowdown in trade as a consequence of worsening economic conditions, according to a survey carried out by accountancy practice Mazuma.
Research carried out among the Cardiff and London-based firm's 500 clients, as well as among companies that attended its recent Start-Ups Seminar, found that while nearly all were either concerned (43%) or slightly concerned (48%), none of them said they were either feeling the effects or saw any problems in their sector. Some 9% said their businesses would survive in a recession.
Twice as many (40%) said they more likely to lose sleep over the state of their order book than over the economic outlook (20%), while a third said rest better if they had a plan that showed where their businesses would be in five years' time.
When asked how the Assembly could help, over a third (36%) said a less confusing network of support agencies would benefit them better than grant aid (26%), while as many businesses wanted Assembly-supported networking as the removal of red tape.
While almost half of respondents (47%) wanted support from the Government in the form of lower taxes, over a quarter (27%) wanted better co-ordination between regional development agencies, so that companies based in their areas of responsibility would be able to better trade with one another. While a fifth of respondents (20%) wanted Westminster to "stop using green issues as a convenient way of pricing us off the road", only 6% were looking for more trade missions abroad.
Lucy Cohen, Mazuma director, said, "We were quite surprised by these findings. While it is usually bigger companies that would be affected by the credit crunch, as they require that kind of financing for acquisitions and other big capital spends, the view among our respondents remains quite optimistic, if watchful. We were also quite heartened by the independence and confidence demonstrated in the survey. No longer are SMEs looking for handouts, but they do require good advice, and have yet to be convinced that it is available."
Small businesses also require good candidates to grow quickly. But only 8% believed they could source skilled and specialist staff easily in the Welsh marketplace. Half (50%) thought it ‘very hard' to find trained employees, while 42% said more should be done to prepare staff for a small business mindset.
The education system particularly criticized, with only 7% of employers saying that school leavers arrived with the skills to make an immediate contribution to the business. Some 47% said they arrived with enough ‘to get by', while 15% described the training process as ‘a long, hard slog', and almost a quarter (23%) said they had ‘wondered about recruiting from Bristol Zoo'.
Sophie Hughes, Mazuma director, said, "Some may believe that last finding is a little harsh, but small businesses are afforded less time or training than those with 250 staff or more. We're encouraged by the recent changes that the Assembly has made, bringing education and enterprise closer together. We hope these findings will be of further help to them."
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