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Business Review November 2023

Business Confidence Remains Low

The latest national Business Confidence Monitor published by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) has revealed a dip in the overall level of confidence across the business community.

According to the survey, business confidence remained low during the third quarter and, on average, was weaker than the level reported across the previous three-month period. There were signs, however, that sentiment during the quarter was on an upward trend, which the ICAEW thought may reflect improving expectations regarding inflation and interest rates.

In terms of sectors, construction firms displayed particularly weak levels of confidence, reflecting the industry’s exposure to higher interest rates, high input costs and weakening growth prospects. Delays to planned work due to heavy rainfall is also believed to have dampened sentiment during the quarter.

ICAEW Chief Executive Michael Izza commented, “Business confidence unsurprisingly remains low given companies’ struggles with a myriad of financial challenges and weakening customer demand. A clear strategy is needed to increase the resilience of the UK economy, and we’d like to see this included in the Autumn Statement. Our members operating across every region and every sector want an economy underpinned by certainty, clarity, stability and the right long-term incentives to influence investment, employment and growth.”

FSB Calls For Autumn Statement Commitments

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has labelled the upcoming Autumn Statement ‘a watershed moment’ and urged the Chancellor to use the fiscal event to cement his commitment to the small business community.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt will deliver his next fiscal update on 22 November and the FSB is urging action on several fronts. In its Autumn Statement submission, the FSB specifically called on Mr Hunt to take a ‘strong stand’ against late payments and to extend the 75% business rates discount for retail, hospitality and leisure beyond March 2024.

Other measures the FSB would like the Chancellor to announce include training in new skills to be tax-deductible for the self-employed; action to increase housebuilding through changing the timing of Community Infrastructure Levy payments and introducing a new Brownfield Development Relief; and new measures to help reduce health-related labour market inactivity.

In its Green Budget submission, however, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) warned that the Chancellor is facing a ‘fiscal bind.’ The IFS argues that low growth and high debt interest payments mean there is ‘no room for manoeuvre’ and suggest that, in the current environment of high inflation and rising interest rates, tax cuts ‘would be extremely difficult to justify.’

Small Business Saturday Campaign

Small business owners from across the country are being offered the opportunity to sign up to a series of free online workshops and one-to-one mentoring sessions as part of the Small Business Saturday campaign.

The grassroots campaign, which has now been running for more than a decade, aims to celebrate small business success and encourage consumers to ‘shop local’ in order to support small businesses in their communities. The day itself takes place on the first Saturday in December, which this year will be 2 December.

In the build-up to the day itself, Small Business Saturday has been offering a free daily programme of online events, including workshops, webinars and online coaching sessions with business mentors, which are open to all small firms. In addition, a nationwide roadshow tour calling at 23 different UK towns and cities has been taking place throughout November.

The workshops being offered by Small Business Saturday cover a range of topic areas. These include sustainability for small businesses; converting more online sales; mastering the art of storytelling; mindset hacks for running your own business; business planning; and diversity, equity and inclusion guidance.

Shutterstock/Marta Design

Remote Working Here To Stay

Research from the Institute of Directors (IoD) suggests a ‘clear majority’ of businesses are planning to offer their employees remote or hybrid working in the long term.

The survey was conducted in the second half of September and received responses from 710 business leaders. In total, more than eight out of ten said their organisation plans to offer some degree of remote working for office-based employees in the future.

While one in eight respondents did say their business plans to offer fully remote working in the long term, the IoD did note that some organisations are now moving away from a model marked by full flexibility to a hybrid approach. A key motivation for this shift is a desire to bring staff together to facilitate innovation and team cohesion.

Commenting on the findings, IoD Principal Policy Advisor for Employment Alexandra Hall-Chen said, “Our research shows that, for a clear majority of businesses, remote and hybrid working are here to stay. Flexible working is a valuable tool for businesses seeking to attract and retain talented staff. Good flexible working policies can also support groups more likely to fall out of the workforce, such as parents and disabled people, to thrive in the workplace.”

FSB Warning After Banking Dispute Ruling

The FSB has warned that many SMEs have ‘nowhere to turn’ after the regulator ruled against extending eligibility criteria for the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS).

Following a recent review, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) decided not to extend SME access to the FOS arguing the current arrangements already cover 99% of UK private sector firms. As a result, only SMEs with a turnover of less than £6.5m and fewer than 50 employees, or a balance sheet total of less than £5m can access the service.

The FSB maintains larger SMEs also need a viable route to banking justice and has called on the government to create a tribunal service funded by a levy on the banking sector with the expertise and capacity to take on larger, more complex cases.

FSB Policy Chair Tina McKenzie said, “This FCA decision means many SMEs involved in banking disputes will be forced to take the risk and expense of taking their bank to court. Even businesses towards the larger end of the SME scale may still encounter a considerable imbalance of power when going up against banks. If the FOS thresholds aren’t to be increased, another solution is needed to keep cases out of the overburdened courts system.”



A survey of UK business owners conducted by Yell suggests the vast majority of small firms that do business with friends or family charge too little for their services. The research found that 85% of small business owners do extra work for free for people they know; on average an extra 25 minutes was spent with each of these clients compared to normal expected work times.


The FSB has set out proposals to protect small businesses who use online sales platforms after new research highlighted a range of issues and the difficulties small firms face when trying to resolve them. Key issues include late payments, fake reviews and infringement of intellectual property, with almost four in ten small firms who encounter a problem saying it was ‘difficult’ or ‘very difficult’ to resolve.


Analysis of official UK labour market statistics by the Centre for Ageing Better has revealed there are now almost one million more workers in the 65 and over age bracket than at the start of the century. While a large proportion of these workers are self-employed or in part-time employment, the analysis also highlighted a growing number of people working full time up to and beyond State Pension age.


Top HR Priorities For The Year Ahead

Research conducted by employee engagement platform WorkBuzz has revealed what HR leaders consider to be the key priorities for 2024, with employee retention identified as the stand-out area of concern.

The findings were based on insights from over 400 UK-based HR professionals and are contained within WorkBuzz’s ‘State of Employee Engagement Report 2023/24’. According to the research, the five biggest HR priorities for the coming year are expected to be:


PositionPriorityPercentageMovement From Last Year
1Retention36%up 2 places
2Wellbeing29%Down 1 places
3Recruitment28%Down 1 places
4Performance & Productivity26%Up 6 places
5Employee Engagement and Experience25%Down 4 places

The research shows that HR professionals feel employee retention will be their main priority for 2024. Perhaps unsurprisingly given its leap to the top of the list, almost nine out of ten respondents said retention was getting more difficult or not changing, compared to just one in ten who felt it was getting easier.

Interestingly, the fastest riser in this year’s table was performance and productivity which jumped six places. This suggests that, as organisations continue to tighten their belts, they are increasingly keen to get more out of existing employees with leaner and fitter initiatives.

Commenting on the survey, WorkBuzz CEO Steven Frost said, “Organisations are prioritising retaining their best talent, with a greater emphasis on supporting their wellbeing. For the last 18 months we’ve seen employees’ real earnings squeezed by high inflation, strikes throughout the public sector and workers tempted to switch roles for higher pay, with some actually needing to. Employers are responding with higher pay rises but are expecting more from their people as a result by placing greater emphasis on improving productivity.”

Pets Improve Remote Workers’ Mental Health

A new survey conducted by pet-sitting platform TrustedHousesitters shows pets can have a significant impact on remote and hybrid workers’ mental and physical health.

The research found that pets positively impact remote workers in a number of areas, including work-related stress, work-life balance and encouraging healthy habits. Nine out of ten respondents, for instance, agreed that the company of animals has reduced their level of work-related stress.

Developing daily routines is clearly important for remote workers’ health, and over four in ten respondents noted that pets have encouraged them to stick to a routine. In addition, two-thirds said working alongside pets boosts their mental health by encouraging them to go outdoors at least once each working day.

Angela Laws, Head of Community and PR at TrustedHousesitters, said, “This research proves that when it comes to improving the mental health of remote workers, pets are the perfect partners. They provide companionship and help facilitate a much-needed balance between virtual work and life.”

All details are correct at the time of writing (10 November 2023)

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