15 Apr 2024

How have small UK businesses responded to pandemic guidance?


Researchers at Newcastle University Business School are to look at how small businesses have understood and complied with government regulations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Working with partners at Birmingham Business School and Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), the SECT:OR (Small Enterprises in COVID Times: On Regulation) project will identify how small firms have received and acted on information about laws and guidance during the pandemic.

The project – which is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), as part of UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to COVID-19 – will involve a large-scale online survey of companies who have fewer than 49 employees, as well as a number of in-depth interviews.

Dr Paul Richter, Lecturer in Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Newcastle University Business School, and who is leading the project, said: “We are very grateful and excited that our research project has been awarded this funding. It represents a great opportunity to contribute to the enormous effort being made by researchers across the country to support the UK’s learning about the impact of COVID-19.

“In the face of constantly changing guidance and regulations during the pandemic, the business community has had to make extremely difficult decisions with far-reaching consequences for employees’ livelihoods, public and employee health, and the viability and survival of their businesses. We are keen to learn from some of those leading the UK’s nearly 6 million small businesses about how they have managed that task. We are delighted to be joined in this endeavour by researchers at the University of Birmingham and by our partner, FSB.”

Responses will be obtained from small businesses across all sectors and will draw on the established networks provided by FSB and others. The research will be carried out with small businesses in all parts of the UK to try and identify the impact of variations of guidance and regulations being introduced in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland at different times.

The research will give policymakers at a local, regional and national level, who are responsible for formulating regulation and guidance for small businesses, greater clarity about how these companies receive and interpret information and the financial, emotional, and time costs of complying. The findings will also be useful to those representing and advising small businesses, including professional services firms.

Federation of Small Businesses National Chair, Mike Cherry, said: “Small firms are the backbone of the economy, which is why it’s vital that we understand the impact of regulation on them. At its best, regulation should support, help and protect, without hindering small firms from thriving. But there is always a danger that regulation can become too complex, with overly burdensome requirements imposed on businesses.

“At a time of huge change to businesses, the economy and the country, it’s these regulatory requirements that really could make or break a small firm. I look forward to seeing the results of this data and helping to carve out a better and brighter future for small businesses.”

The online survey will be launched at the beginning of July and in-depth interviews conducted later in the summer.

To contact the project team about the research, or if you are a business that would like to take part, please email: OnRegulation@newcastle.ac.uk