As world leaders discussed the climate crisis at COP 26, small business owners in Wales issued a reality check about their own progress with sustainability plans, according to a survey from ACCA UK (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) and The Corporate Finance Network (CFN).
Small business owners said the number one issue holding businesses back from making their operations more sustainable is lack of time and the resources to implement environmental strategies.
Company bosses also highlighted their own lack of expertise and understanding of where to start with sustainability plans, as well as the fact that the issue is not a priority for the leaders of small enterprises in Wales.
Accountants reported that just 1% of Welsh clients have requested support from them on sustainability issues.
The SME Tracker survey reflects the challenges faced by small business owners trying to be more conscious of sustainability, while still tackling a multitude of critical issues caused by the pandemic.
These include battling supply chain concerns, hiring skilled talent and managing financial pressures due to rising inflation and the cost of finance.
The SME Tracker, which reports what small businesses tell their accountants, reported data from accountants representing 16,300 SME clients across the UK, including 6,950 from Wales, and ran until November 9.
Businesses also reported that they are still facing challenges obtaining the right financial backing from traditional outlets now that government-backed loans have wound down, although businesses in Wales are finding this easier than the rest of the UK.
A figure of 25% of practices in Wales said that clients have struggled to access overdrafts in the last three months, compared to 65% in the UK as a whole.
They were also much more positive about government support to enable recovery with less than 2% of accountants saying that clients haven’t received enough financial support from the government to enable them to recover, as opposed to almost 20% across the UK.
However, only 22% of small businesses in Wales report that they are back to pre-Covid levels of productivity or turnover, which is little more than half of the figure for the UK (40%).
And while one in four (23%) are expecting to take on new people in the next 6-12 months across the UK, the figure for Wales is only 11%.
Owners in Wales are doing better than their UK counterparts on mental health, with only 8% reporting that they are feeling more stressed and anxious (UK 20%).
Lloyd Powell, head of ACCA Wales said: “Business owners in Wales are trailing the rest of the UK in terms of optimism about returning to full productivity and taking on more people. But they are finding it easier to access finance and are more positive about government support and their own mental health.
“Small business owners are consumed by urgent issues at the moment and are fighting to keep their operations running. It’s understandable that they are not focused on sustainability, but we would encourage them to try to take a longer-term view and build that resilience into their organisation.
“We welcomed the recent announcement of a £130 million fund in Wales, helping Welsh businesses get the funding they need. However, a joined-up approach between the UK and Welsh governments is needed to ensure effective and efficient delivery of programmes to support Wales and the Welsh economy. Our survey demonstrates the need for a greater focus to support SMEs’ access to green investments and business planning.”
Kirsty McGregor, founder of the Corporate Finance Network, said: “Accountants have a great opportunity to become a source of expertise in this area, so that they can educate their business owner clients to think about how to tackle sustainability.
“Many small companies are still struggling to get back to full strength and it’s disappointing to hear that businesses are finding routine debt financing is still proving to be a challenge. Governments should be doing more to raise awareness of financial options open to small businesses and encourage the major banks to use digital processes which make the lending decision more efficient and effective.”