Ben Wright

  • "The pandemic has also acted as a catalyst, showing up bad business models and accelerating existing trends"

Commentary by Ben Wright,
Business Editor, The Telegraph

It is one of my favourite statistics. Of the 5.9 million private sector businesses in the UK, 5.8 million have fewer than 50 employees. That’s a loooooooooong tail. British business is, to all intents and purposes, small businesses.

In fact, only around 8,000 businesses have more than 250 employees. And yet media attention (mea culpa!) is predominantly focused on just a tiny fraction of that number, which is itself only a tiny fraction of the UK’s business ecosystem.

That’s why I have such affection for London Stock Exchange Group’s annual report focusing on the country’s thriving small business community. Individually, many of the companies featured within these pages would be too small to garner much attention; collectively, they provide a portrait of the driving force behind the vast majority of this country’s jobs and economic output.

You also get a totally different perspective when you look at UK business through the other end of the telescope. We are, for example, constantly told the trouble with Britain today is that we no longer make anything. Well, tell that to the businesses that comprise the 1000

Companies to Inspire Britain 2020. Just look at the top three sectors from which they are drawn: 173 of them operate in Engineering & Construction, 97 in Manufacturing, and 81 in Food & Beverage. All these companies are making things, be it high-spec parts for fighter jets or marmalade.

Of course, this year has been unlike any other before it and the report includes a chapter highlighting the resilience and innovation displayed by many small companies during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many companies effectively had to go into hibernation for several months, many others were forced to completely overhaul their business models. The UK Government came up with a range of schemes to help companies through this time, but many were not available to small businesses or were too complicated for them to access.

However, the pandemic has also acted as a catalyst, showing up bad business models and accelerating existing trends. As the focus shifts from preserving existing jobs in the old economy to creating jobs in the new economy it is inevitably the companies profiled in this report, and those like them, that will do the majority of the hard work in getting us back on track.

Good luck. We’re all counting on you.