Business owners expecting new restrictions before the New Year, survey suggests

Most small and medium sized business owners expect the Government to introduce more stringent coronavirus restrictions before the end of this month, a new poll suggests.

The survey by Newcastle technology company Sage found that 87% of business owners expect the Government to put further restrictions in place before January, while 39% think new measures will be brought in before Christmas.

The poll of more than 1,000 business found that that SME owners were fairly split on whether the Government should introduce a “firebreak” lockdown, with 40% in favour and 37% against.

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There was higher support for measures such as mandatory Covid-19 vaccines for employees (61%), while more than half (52%) support restrictions on gatherings in public places.

Other possible restrictions gained lower levels of support, with the offering of Government loans, the introduction of a Covide pass and tighter restrictions on mask wearing all backed by 26% of survey respondents.

The survey has been released after Health Secretary Sajid Javid refused to rule out increasing restrictions before Christmas, and with the Government under pressure both from those wanting new measures to stop the spread of the omicron variant and others opposed to greater restrictions.

Sage Group CEO Steve Hare commented: “Small and Medium businesses need the gift of consideration this Christmas if we don’t want them to be left behind as the Government plans its economic response to this latest phase of the pandemic.

“We may not be in lockdown but the drop in consumer confidence is already hitting SMBs. Many are bracing themselves for a tough start to 2022. Having invested so much into building their resilience and agility over the last 18 months, the prospect of more restrictions is a body blow.”

Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng are coming under increasing pressure to offer support to businesses affected by the new restrictions and the drop in trade that resulted from Government scientists advising people to mix less.

Shadow chancellor of the exchequer Rachel Reeves has told the BBC’s Today programme that businesses need more support to get them through difficult months, while a range of business groups have called for action over the last few days.

Asked what could provide the biggest boost to their businesses in 2022, 30% of respondents to the Sage survey asked for the lowering of National Insurance contributions, but more than a quarter (28%) cited an issue that was a concern long before the pandemic: being paid on time by customers.

But the rise of the omicron variant and the possibility of new restrictions is chief among business owners’ concerns for 2022, followed by rising inflation and supply chain issues.

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Graeme WhitfieldRegional business editor