Scottish SMEs plan to make pandemic changes more enduring

Almost a third of smaller businesses in Scotland plan to make their pandemic changes a permanent feature as they look to battle the resulting economic crisis, new research suggests.

Susan Davies, head of business banking, Santander UK.

Four in ten small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) grew their customer base during the coronavirus lockdown thanks to adaptations made to stay open, according to research from Santander UK.

It reveals that three in ten of those firms quizzed by the banking giant intend to make their Covid-19 changes a permanent feature post-pandemic.

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The study, which polled more than 2,000 bosses at SMEs across the UK, suggests that the global health crisis has driven long-term change to the way businesses operate.

Despite finding ways to survive the pandemic, only one in four (24 per cent) of affected businesses north of the Border expect their operations to return to normal in 2020.

Moving more of their business online (14 per cent) and changing their product offering (11 per cent) were among the methods used to ensure continuity during the past few months.

However, 40 per cent of SMEs said they would not be ready to face any other challenges or future crises until they had dealt with Covid.

Susan Davies, head of business banking, Santander UK, said: “SMEs are the backbone of the UK economy and now, more than ever, are proving to be invaluable to the local communities in which they serve.

“With many adapting, almost overnight to survive, we are proud to have helped them on their journey through the provision of more than £3 billion in bounce back loans.

“Now with the launch of our new business support programme, we hope to continue to help small businesses as we emerge from lockdown and look to the future.”

Despite SMEs adapting to survive the pandemic so far, nearly two thirds of business leaders in Scotland (63 per cent) have reported a decline in their profits and revenues.

Alloa-based fruit and vegetable wholesaler Central Produce is one firm that has adapted its business model by launching the sale and delivery of fruit boxes to the local community while its usual customers, largely made up of restaurants and other local firms, were closed.

General manager Andrew McDowall said: “Restaurants and local businesses make up most of our client base, so their closure during lockdown was challenging for us. Support made it possible for us to diversify our services and we now offer door-to-door deliveries of fresh produce which can be ordered online.

“We hope to continue this service, and it just goes to show how challenging situations can spur positive change.”

A separate study of thousands of UK consumers, also undertaken by Santander, found that 60 per cent want local SMEs to keep the changes they made once lockdown restrictions are further relaxed.

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