Most research we’ve seen lately has suggested that small firms are getting a raw deal from their banks – yet the banks claim that they’re cranking up their SME lending. So who’s right? We wanted to ask business owners directly, so we’ve teamed up with research specialist Continental, which has been running a regular SME survey for over 15 years. And the brand spanking new MT/ Continental Omnibus yielded a surprising result: 82% of small firms said their bank treated them fairly in 2009. Elsewhere, Sir Alan Sugar emerged as the most popular ‘celebrity’ understudy for business owners – whereas poor old Business Secretary Lord Mandelson got even fewer votes than Katie Price…
The idea of the new MT/ Continental Omnibus is that every quarter, a representative panel of business owners (from small, medium and large-sized firms) will tell us exactly how they’re feeling about the burning issues of the day. And rather to our surprise, the battered banks got the thumbs-up from the majority of respondents. No matter which way you cut the data (turnover, number of employees, sector etc), almost every sub-category (apart from Northern firms) produced an approval rating above 75%, and in some cases it was as high as 95%. A bit of a turn-up, we thought - perhaps they're all doing so well they haven't needed to go cap-in-hand to their local bank manager?
Elsewhere, there were some signs of optimism returning. Nearly 40% said they were feeling more confident than this time last year (although sub-£1m businesses were much more likely to have a gloomy outlook). Only 14% are planning to recruit new staff in the next six months, but the good news is that less than 10% were planning to cut jobs – most are expecting headcount to remain about the same. State support was also a hot topic: when asked about how much help they were currently getting from the Government, 71% plumped for ‘not a lot’ or ‘not at all’ – with almost 40% of smaller firms in the latter category. Not quite what Gordon Brown and Lord Mandelson will want to hear, three months before a possible General Election.
Still, if Mandy thought that was bad, there was worse to come. We closed the survey by asking business owners who they’d like to put in charge if they decided to take February off. And while SurAllun came out of it disappointingly well, accumulating almost half of the total vote, some of our other suggestions did not: Dragons’ Den star Deborah Meaden picked up just 7% of the vote - less than Sir Terry Wogan - while Mandy clocked up a measly 3%, which was lower than such business luminaries as Fabio Capello (4%) and newly-wed Katie Price (5%). You’d think he’d never had a proper job or something. (OK, so this one was a bit frivolous – but it made us laugh.)
In today's bulletin:
British Airways' latest losses 'only' £50m
Waitrose sales up 15% in the last six months
Another 4,500 companies go bust in Q4
Exclusive MT survey: We're getting a fair deal from our banks, say SMEs
Psychology at Work: Time for some optimism