Exclusive MT survey: Not so grim up North as optimism blooms

Our second omnibus suggests SME owners haven't lost their optimism - especially in the North.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The results of our latest survey don't necessarily make happy reading for Gordon and pals on the last leg of the Election campaign - more than a third of SMEs think the Government is doing nothing whatsoever to help them. Although if Labour's looking to shore up the core vote, the good news is that Northern firms seem a lot more cheerful than their counterparts elsewhere: they were more optimistic, more likely to be hiring, and better disposed towards the Government. Clearly it's a lot grimmer down South these days, at least as far as Labour is concerned...

The research - carried out by omnibus specialist BDRC Continental - asks a representative panel of SME owners to give us the dirt on the burning issues of the day. And leaders at the helm of small businesses in the North were the most positive (relatively speaking) about government assistance - 40% say the government is doing 'a little' to help them, up from 17% in January. Though ‘a little’ is hardly a lot, this boost of confidence makes them much perkier than their counterparts elsewhere, who feel they've been getting the cold shoulder from Westminster in the last three months. For instance, the proportion of business who think the Government is doing diddly-squat to help them went up from 27% to 35% in the Midlands, and from 33% to 39% in the South.

Reassuringly for employees, the majority of SMEs (79%) expect staff numbers to stay the same in the next six months. And by gum, that blossoming Northern confidence is in evidence again when it comes to headcount planning: 25% anticipate an increase in their workforce in the next 6 months. This compares to 10% in the Midlands and 13% in the South.

The other reassuring sign is that despite the prevailing doom and gloom, and despite the belief that the government isn’t mucking in, entrepreneurs in general remain a stubbornly optimistic bunch. A whopping 87% of our respondents reckon they have a positive outlook on business and life, with only a gloomy 10% seeing themselves as pessimists (the other 3% can't decide if the glass is half full or half empty). Once again, northen SME owners were the most optimistic, with 92% saying they have a positive outlook on business and life. Maybe it's something in the water?

One thing guaranteed to make an SME owner's blood boil is red tape, of course. So we asked our respondents to specify what they'd like to see cut, regardless of who’s kipping in Number Ten after next Thursday. Unsurprisingly, the omnibus found that the dreaded health and safety rules were the clear favourite for the chop, with just under a third (31%) of SME heads singling it out. Next in the firing line was tax compliance, with 23% choosing it as a target for cuts.

Still, with less than a week to go until the Election, and the unnerving possibility of a hung parliament still very much on the cards, it's good to see that small business owners are still seeing things sunny-side up. After all, Brown/ Cameron/ Clegg will ultimately be relying on them to get us out of the current mess...

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