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The State of Small Business Britain:
A manifesto for small business growth and productivity
• The ERC’s annual review of trends and issues affecting small businesses
• This time bringing together an entire decade of research insights!
• 110 research papers
• 61 research reports
• 60 SOTA Reviews
• 49 Insight papers
• Plus, numerous academic papers
• …and thousands of conversations with stakeholders and businesses
• A range of themes… from a focus on what prompts business growth to broader concerns with
productivity and sustainability
A decade of change
• A growing small business population in the UK
• 5.5 million small businesses in 2023 – growth driven disproportionately by the smallest, non-
employing businesses
• A nation of entrepreneurs - around one in three adults in the UK now either running a
business or looking at starting one
• But small businesses have faced some extreme pressures…
• Resilience has become a crucial trait
What promotes growth and productivity in small businesses?
• ERC research has shown that small business growth is multi-faceted and complex
• The volume of start-ups is not the problem - survival, scaling up and productivity is
• ERC research has provided evidence that a range of factors are important:
• But… the proportion of businesses undertaking some of these key growth-related behaviours (e.g.
innovation, accessing finance, exporting) has lowered in the past few years
Access to finance
• Seeking external finance is positively associated with faster growth and productivity
• But most UK small firms are permanent ‘non-borrowers’
• Shift in the willingness of small firms to seek finance since the GFC
• Reasons include inadequate information, fear of rejection, lack of focus on growth
• Evidence of the positive impact of Covid-19 financial support initiatives
• Inequalities exist by gender and ethnicity, also spatially
• As well as access to finance, late payment is also a major (under-appreciated?) issue
Business support
• Plays a role in business survival and growth, way of diffusing best practice to small businesses
• But the UK business support system is fragmented and unstable
• Uptake varies by range of factors, e.g. firm size and educational level of leaders
• Lack of tailored support for disadvantaged groups
• Quality of advice and personal relationships and expertise are important
• Firms also need to be ‘ready, willing and able’ to take on board advice
• Many firms first seek advice when they are already at the point of crisis - too late?
Innovation
• Strong link to survival, growth and productivity - new market opportunities, new ways of working
• Proportion of innovation-active firms in the UK has fallen sharply in recent years
• Impacts of economic shocks on innovation behaviour
• Spatial patterns of innovation - the ‘arc of innovation’, local strengths and weaknesses
• Range of factors influence innovation - openness and collaboration, absorptive capacity, diversity,
exporting
• Benefits of publicly-funded support for innovation - R&D grants, R&D tax credits, and academic-
industry collaborations, importance of ‘policy mix’
Management and leadership
• Positive associations between M&L and growth and productivity
• Importance of ‘growth-oriented’ actions - knowledge flows, risk-taking and innovation
• Link between use of key HRM practices and innovation
• HPW practices important in high growth firms, bundles of practices effective
• Positive work cultures and informal HR practices are associated with sustained growth
• Links between workplace mental health and wellbeing and productivity
• Pandemic challenges - new ways of working and rise in mental health issues
• Room for improvement in adoption of HPW and strategic approaches to mental health
ERC manifesto for small business growth and productivity - Vicki Belt
ERC manifesto for small business growth and productivity - Vicki Belt
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ERC manifesto for small business growth and productivity - Vicki Belt

  • 1.
  • 2. The State of Small Business Britain: A manifesto for small business growth and productivity • The ERC’s annual review of trends and issues affecting small businesses • This time bringing together an entire decade of research insights! • 110 research papers • 61 research reports • 60 SOTA Reviews • 49 Insight papers • Plus, numerous academic papers • …and thousands of conversations with stakeholders and businesses • A range of themes… from a focus on what prompts business growth to broader concerns with productivity and sustainability
  • 3. A decade of change • A growing small business population in the UK • 5.5 million small businesses in 2023 – growth driven disproportionately by the smallest, non- employing businesses • A nation of entrepreneurs - around one in three adults in the UK now either running a business or looking at starting one • But small businesses have faced some extreme pressures… • Resilience has become a crucial trait
  • 4. What promotes growth and productivity in small businesses? • ERC research has shown that small business growth is multi-faceted and complex • The volume of start-ups is not the problem - survival, scaling up and productivity is • ERC research has provided evidence that a range of factors are important: • But… the proportion of businesses undertaking some of these key growth-related behaviours (e.g. innovation, accessing finance, exporting) has lowered in the past few years
  • 5. Access to finance • Seeking external finance is positively associated with faster growth and productivity • But most UK small firms are permanent ‘non-borrowers’ • Shift in the willingness of small firms to seek finance since the GFC • Reasons include inadequate information, fear of rejection, lack of focus on growth • Evidence of the positive impact of Covid-19 financial support initiatives • Inequalities exist by gender and ethnicity, also spatially • As well as access to finance, late payment is also a major (under-appreciated?) issue
  • 6. Business support • Plays a role in business survival and growth, way of diffusing best practice to small businesses • But the UK business support system is fragmented and unstable • Uptake varies by range of factors, e.g. firm size and educational level of leaders • Lack of tailored support for disadvantaged groups • Quality of advice and personal relationships and expertise are important • Firms also need to be ‘ready, willing and able’ to take on board advice • Many firms first seek advice when they are already at the point of crisis - too late?
  • 7. Innovation • Strong link to survival, growth and productivity - new market opportunities, new ways of working • Proportion of innovation-active firms in the UK has fallen sharply in recent years • Impacts of economic shocks on innovation behaviour • Spatial patterns of innovation - the ‘arc of innovation’, local strengths and weaknesses • Range of factors influence innovation - openness and collaboration, absorptive capacity, diversity, exporting • Benefits of publicly-funded support for innovation - R&D grants, R&D tax credits, and academic- industry collaborations, importance of ‘policy mix’
  • 8. Management and leadership • Positive associations between M&L and growth and productivity • Importance of ‘growth-oriented’ actions - knowledge flows, risk-taking and innovation • Link between use of key HRM practices and innovation • HPW practices important in high growth firms, bundles of practices effective • Positive work cultures and informal HR practices are associated with sustained growth • Links between workplace mental health and wellbeing and productivity • Pandemic challenges - new ways of working and rise in mental health issues • Room for improvement in adoption of HPW and strategic approaches to mental health