Kirsty McGregor, whose research from her accountants in The Corporate Finance Network hit the headlines yesterday with the news that 18% of their SME clients were likely to go bust within weeks and 32% within months, has once again tried to get her message through to the Treasury that SME’s don’t want loans, they don’t want to take on debt at this time, whether that’s an interest free loan or not, and she is asking SMEs to help her do that with a social media campaign using the hashtag #NoMoreDebt.

According to Experian, 1.2m of the 3.6m small and medium sized limited companies, have less than £10k in net assets in their businesses, and 49% of them had a credit rating which was ‘high risk’ or worse, even before this crisis. This is likely to be repeated, if not worse, in the unincorporated businesses and although the Chancellor has provided more support for these ‘self employed’, there will still be a cashflow delay of several months before they receive it.

McGregor explains “SMEs are frantic at the moment, most of them live hand to mouth and don’t have the reserves to see them through a lockdown – with little or no trading – which may last 4 weeks, 10 weeks or longer.  But the key problem is that they don’t know how long the lockdown will last and when they can start to rebuild their businesses again.

“SME business owners do not make decisions like a Board of Directors in a larger, corporate business would.  Entrepreneurs take the profits from their businesses when they can, and in quieter years they can earn little, but then they can reap the benefits in the years when they can build good profits and cashflow.  Many SMEs work for the first few years without any earnings at all, yet still take risks to employ staff and pay them, in order to grow their business and create employment.

“They do not want to take on loans, whether interest free or not, when the business’ financial position is so unknown.  And as much as I welcome the expected easing of some of the restrictions of the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, I don’t think it’s the right solution for most SMEs.  Debt will still need repaying.  The tax and VAT deferrals, rent, rates, loan and mortgage holidays, the utility bills and trade suppliers will all still need repaying.

“Business owners have the foresight to know that loading debt into a distressed business will not help longer than perhaps the next few months.  The longer term consequences will still hit the entrepreneur and they could still lose their business, their livelihood and possibly their own homes, as a result of the business not being able to repay this debt when they start trading again. They do not want to risk all that they have worked hard for over the previous 5, 10 or 30 years.”

McGregor further hit out at the Chancellor’s tweet yesterday, announcing the release of the funds for the rates relief grants, which said that “High Street businesses are at the core of what keeps our economy thriving”.[1]  She said that “Small high street retailers, as important as they are to our communities, are not the most valuable businesses to our SME economy. Business Parks, Industrial Estates and the factories and mills are full of SME businesses which employ the most staff, from 20-200 staff each, and apart from furloughing staff and tax/VAT deferrals, these business owners have had little support, and are just being expected to take on more debt.”  She called on the Treasury advisers in Westminster to look further afield that the shops, bars and restaurants which pack the streets of London.

“The owners of engineering companies, construction businesses, recruitment agencies, solicitors’ practices – these are all being expected to take on the risk to continue employing staff.  Some business owners will understandably just want to walk away from their business at the moment, and not carry on with the stress of attempting to run a company with employees, so we need solutions to help them do this, to wind up their companies in a structured way, whilst protecting the employees and finding them suitable re-employment.  We need these other solutions quickly, before we risk adding a large proportion of the 23m people they employ, to the unemployment figures in our country.”

She says she is still waiting for the Treasury to ask for more information about her other suggested resolutions, but has asked SMEs to help her get the message across to the Chancellor by tweeting a hashtag “#NoMoreDebt”

Note for Editors

Background

SMEs, (typically less than 250 employees), account for 99.9% of the private sector employment in the UK and there are 23 million employees working for these private sector businesses[2].

The Corporate Finance Network – www.thecfn.org.uk – The Corporate Finance Network consists of some of the most proactive and commercially astute regional, independent accountancy firms in the UK. They specialise in providing corporate finance advice for smaller transactions.

 

 

 

[1] https://twitter.com/RishiSunak/status/1245258095539912704?s=20

[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/business-population-estimates-2019/business-population-estimates-for-the-uk-and-regions-2019-statistical-release-html

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