Majority of SMEs confused about the Levelling Up agenda

New research finds 52% of UK small business leaders are unsure how the government will deliver on its plan to address regional inequality

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As the government prepares to release its levelling up white paper later this month, new research from fintech company Nucleus Commercial Finance has found that more than half (52%) of SMEs are confused about the plans.

The survey of 500 medium to small-sized businesses was commissioned to examine SME opinion of the levelling up agenda, and find out more about the impact of regional inequalities on their operations.

According to the findings, SME leaders are largely pessimistic about whether the government is turning stated plans into action. Of those surveyed, only a third (30%) believe that the government will deliver on its levelling up agenda.

No clarity on North-South disparity

Whilst regularly using the term ‘levelling up’ in press conferences and political campaigns, Boris Johnson has been criticised for not clearly defining what the policy means for the UK and its business population.

Earlier this year, the government added to SME confusion by scrapping the proposed Eastern Leg of HS2. The project had been heavily publicised as an example of the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda, as an investment in important infrastructure for the Midlands and North of England.

Despite these concerns, it has been promised that the levelling up white paper, due out later this year, will provide an actionable timeline for making the plan a reality.

The explanation is desperately needed by small business owners, particularly in light of the economic disruption caused by coronavirus.

Nucleus’ research reveals that 50% of SMEs don’t know what levelling up the country means for their business, leaving them in the dark on how they will be supported through the post-Covid economic recovery.

How are regional inequalities affecting SMEs?

Small businesses currently make up over 99% of the UK business population. Their success is ultimately essential to ensure an economic recovery from Covid-19.

But, according to the report by Nucleus, some 55% of SME respondents said they believe regional inequalities are affecting their ability to hire highly skilled workers.

Regional inequalities were also found to be having a profound effect on SME finances.

Some 47% of respondents said that regional differences are impacting the financial health of their business, while 42% say they are affecting their ability to get a loan from a bank.

Chriag Shah, CEO of Nucleus Commercial Finance said that, given the role SMEs will likely play in the UK’s post-Covid recovery, it was “particularly concerning that they feel regional inequalities are putting financial pressures on their business and are severely impacting their opportunities to succeed.”

“It is vital that the levelling up whitepaper provides clarity for SMEs. This is an opportunity for the government to reinforce its commitment to level the playing field and put its promises into action.”

Want to learn more about how to access finance as a small business owner? Take a look at our funding guides to learn more about the options available.

Helena Young
Helena Young Senior Writer

Helena "Len" Young is from Yorkshire and joined Startups in 2021 from a background in B2B communications. She has also previously written for a popular fintech startup.

Included in her topics of interest and expertise are tax legislation, the levelling up agenda, and organisational software including CRM and project management systems. As well as this, she is a big fan of the films of Peter Jackson.

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