Mike Cherry OBE | National Chairman

We continued to push strongly for help for those left out of the early versions of government support schemes, including directors of limited companies and those in supply chains; and we successfully secured support for those who had recently become self-employed at the time the pandemic struck.

Melanie Ulyatt | National Vice Chair, Internal Affairs

The business recognises that climate change is a real issue and found new and innovative ways of connecting due to the pandemic which further reduced its carbon footprint.

Martin McTague | National Vice Chair, Policy and Advocacy

FSB’s strong, independent policy research programme allowed us to present political decision-makers at all levels with powerful evidence of the direct impact of policy decisions on small businesses.

Julie Lilley | Chief Executive

We relentlessly innovated and developed to strengthen FSB’s position as the UK’s leading membership organisation for small businesses and the self-employed.

Foreword from the National Chairman

This has been yet another year of change, uncertainty, challenge and opportunity for UK small businesses; and a year in which FSB stepped up again to support its members throughout.

From COVID-19 lockdowns through to the start of recovery, alongside the end of the Brexit transition period and the adaptation to new trading conditions and international trade agreements, FSB has been at the forefront of giving small businesses and the self-employed a powerful voice. This voice has been heard by both political decision-makers and the media. As well as this, FSB has continued to provide a raft of invaluable business support services to members.

From Autumn 2020, it became increasingly clear that COVID-19’s impact on our way of life, way of doing business, and on the economy, was far from over. FSB successfully lobbied for extensions of government COVID-19 support schemes for small businesses to match the scale and impact of renewed restrictions – from furlough and the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme to cash grants, business rates relief and, for some of the worst-hit sectors, an extended reduction in VAT.

We continued to push strongly for help for those left out of the early versions of government support schemes, including directors of limited companies and those in supply chains; and we successfully secured support for those who had recently become self-employed at the time the pandemic struck.

Our business support services, available as part of FSB membership, were a lifeline to many, backed up by countless virtual events at local, regional and national level, plus streams of information through our social media channels, our COVID-19 online hub, direct member communications, and bespoke support and guidance through our dedicated customer services team.

As COVID-19 restrictions finally began to ease, albeit at different paces in the four corners of the UK, our Recovery Ready campaign provided resources for small business owners trying to get back to some degree of normal trading.

Our volunteers at local, regional and national level continued to play a crucial role in FSB, and their efforts and achievements were celebrated in our Volunteer Awards, held virtually in February 2021. Volunteering within FSB evolved further during the year, underpinned by our ongoing commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion – ensuring that FSB remains representative of the whole small business and self-employed community in every part of the UK.

While times have been tough, small businesses have proved more than ever how innovative, creative and nimble they can be, even in the face of adversity. Our FSB Celebrating Small Business Awards UK Final was the ultimate showcase of that, with a tremendously diverse range of amazing and creative small businesses in every category.

That spirit of innovation, resilience and determination from small businesses and the self-employed will be crucial to securing economic recovery and making the most of post-Brexit international trade opportunities throughout the next financial year, 2021-22, as we continue to represent members and small businesses across the UK.

Mike Cherry OBE
National Chairman, Federation of Small Businesses

Report from the National Vice Chair, Internal affairs

FSB has continued to focus on the quality of its offering and service to members, and retention rates have remained strong. As a result, income from subscriptions and joining fees remains FSB’s most significant source of revenue. It was a further year without subscription increases, with the aim of supporting our members at a vulnerable time for many of them.

Investment in development of the business has continued during the year, however costs have been well controlled and total administrative expenses have reduced. FSB generated a surplus and remained cash generative during the year, further strengthening the balance sheet.

The first version of the FSB App was launched in November 2020 giving members access to account details, events and services. Further investment in a new contact centre management infrastructure has enabled the business to be more efficient and customer-centred providing the customer service team with the capability to manage more than 80,000 member calls during the financial year.

Our magazine, First Voice, further developed and launched a new First Voice podcast series, which attracted a combined audience of over 40,000 people, as well as a new YouTube channel, which attracted 60,000 views.

FSB continued to focus on equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) having seen the establishment of member training programmes and volunteer-led networks. This will help to ensure that the business remains representative of the UK’s small business and self-employed community. The business recognises that climate change is a real issue and it addressed this in the last year by commissioning an internal carbon footprint survey and by recycling tech equipment in the most sustainable and responsible ways.

The business found new and innovative ways of connecting due to the pandemic which further reduced its carbon footprint. The introduction of a new business communication platform in March 2021 has enabled even better internal contact and collaboration across the organisation in a more efficient and sustainable way.

To strengthen our governance, the organisation established a scrutiny body to act as a critical friend to the Board in assessing its performance and effectiveness. Its overall purpose is to obtain assurance on behalf of our members that the strategic direction of FSB is in line with the principles and objectives set out in our constitution.

FSB is at an exciting stage of evolution following the changes our members approved at the last Annual General Meeting, whereby our directors and members of the national scrutiny body are now selected based on merit to ensure the best possible mix and breadth of skills, expertise and knowledge on both bodies.

Melanie Ulyatt
National Vice Chair, Internal Affairs, Federation of Small Businesses

Report from the National Vice Chair, Policy and Advocacy

The word ‘unprecedented’ can be over-used. But, as I come to the end of my term as FSB’s National Vice Chair, Policy and Advocacy, the 2020-21 year is one genuinely without precedent.

The National Chairman has already mentioned our lobbying wins around extending flagship UK COVID-19 support schemes for our members as the pandemic lengthened from 2020 through 2021. Along with extensions, we expanded help toinclude the newly self-employed, and the creation of flexible furlough to better suit small employers. We also changed the terms and payment holidays for those with Bounce Back Loans.

In addition to direct financial support, other important moments included getting some momentum into the Kickstart scheme - with 100,000 young people in funded placements in businesses by the year end, including through FSB’s own scheme with Adecco. In England, we extended the eviction moratorium for small business tenants, along with the creation of a future mediation system for arrears; and negotiated to get thousands of small firms into the Government’s free workplace testing programme. FSB influenced the four nation-level grant support programmes and rules in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Outside of COVID-19, we secured an SME Brexit Support Fund for 5,000 small firms struggling to trade with the EU and hosted an online ‘SME7’ to coincide with the ‘G7’ conference to create an international small business agenda with our counterparts in the biggest global economies. We saw the initial plans for Help to Grow-funded schemes for SME management skills and digital software, that now need to deliver. We campaigned successfully for a £3,000 small employer incentive for apprenticeships, and our campaign with X-Forces Enterprise saw legislation around our idea for a National Insurance Contributions (NICS) holiday for small employers who take on veterans come to fruition. The focus on the Net Zero agenda and COP26 increased through the year, as did policy work looking at the future of both regulation and the tax system.

FSB’s strong, independent policy research programme allows us to present political decision-makers at all levels with powerful evidence of the direct impact of policy decisions on small businesses, based on the real-life experiences of thousands of members. A cornerstone of this is our quarterly Small Business Index (SBI), a barometer of business confidence which is pored over by leading policy makers.

In the last financial year, the SBI found small business confidence fluctuated drastically. In the final quarter of 2020, the headline confidence measure tumbled to -49.3, one of the lowest readings in history; second only to the moment that the COVID pandemic started. The dip was driven by the Government making a sudden change to social contact rules in the lead up to Christmas, resulting in many small firms temporarily closing their doors once again.

Matters then went on to improve, with confidence recovering at the start of 2021 as members began to hope the worst of the pandemic was behind them. However, optimism was once again significantly dented later in the year when the Government unveiled plans to increase national insurance contributions and dividends taxation, which FSB has already begun to make the case against.

Martin McTague
National Vice Chair, Policy and Advocacy, Federation of Small Businesses

Chief Executive’s report

The overriding focus of the last financial year was to increase support to our members in the face of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and my condolences go to all members and staff who have lost loved ones to this pandemic.

The health and safety of our volunteers and staff has been paramount and through continuous risk assessment we continued delivering our business priorities, seamlessly adapting to changing circumstances, which often fluctuated by nation and region.

We relentlessly innovated and developed to strengthen FSB’s position as the UK’s leading membership organisation for small businesses and the self-employed. We delivered exceptional lobbying to governments across the UK, relying on first class public affairs, policy and media and communications strategies. Our First Voice webinar series went on to win Best Membership Engagement during COVID-19 at the Covid Response Awards 2021.

Our social media footprint - an important part of our digital advocacy and public relations strategies - continued to flourish, headed up by our expert communications team. We upgraded our customer service to members, delivered online resources through our Recovery Ready campaign and invested in our employees to develop and retain our talented staff team.

The technological world of contact centres has changed hugely over the last five years, and this has accelerated through the global pandemic. Importantly, FSB member expectation has also changed in line with other modern organisations. Consumers now expect to use a range of channels from telephony to chat and social media, with all engagements joined up so there are no longer silos or disconnected journeys. Our investment in new contact centre and knowledge management systems has been key to achieving this. Our drive for customer service excellence has also been supported by FSB becoming an accredited member of the Institute of Customer Services.

Our external events programme went from strength to strength, delivering more than 2,000 events, including virtual networking events and business bootcamps, attracting almost 50,000 attendees. In May, we awarded the UK’s best small businesses and self-employed across several categories in a virtual FSB ‘Celebrating Small Business Awards UK’ final 2020. The awards ceremony, hosted by broadcaster Clare Balding, was a fitting celebration of all the finalists and winners. We are proud to run these awards, and entries are growing year on year.

To ensure we support our members to the highest standard, we continued to invest in our people; some employees began apprenticeships and some were sponsored to complete professional qualifications. Despite an incredibly difficult employment market, we have been impressed with the high calibre of newly appointed employees wishing to work for FSB. Our sole aim is to serve our members - but ever more so through these unpredictable times, and I am proud that our staff have seamlessly met that challenge.

Julie Lilley
Chief Executive, Federation of Small Businesses

 

Supporting our members through the COVID-19 Pandemic

What we achieved

Member story: Eli’s Pop Up, Hertfordshire

Eli’s Pop Up, a street food chicken business in Hatfield, was established by a group of friends in their twenties after some of them lost their jobs at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

Having previously had to travel to London for independent street food, they saw an opportunity in their local community. Each of the founders has different skills, and so they have been able to do everything from cooking the food to designing the website in-house. At its heart, Eli’s is a community business, and has been able to employ other local people who have lost their jobs during the pandemic.

While Eli’s has been a success, there were lots of obstacles to get here. It was difficult to know where to start when setting up, and we’d like to see more conversations about how to set up a business – from school to sector-based events. Clarity around funding would also be useful, as we were unsure about what approach to take, eventually settling on using our own savings. But we’d still recommend just going for it to anyone with a hospitality business idea!

Unlocking International Trade for small business

What we acheived:

Member story: Environmental Street Furniture, Belfast

Environmental Street Furniture (ESF), FSB Award winner, is a Northern Ireland based, global designer and supplier of street, themed and site furnishings, as well as solar and security products. The company began trading in 2013 and entered the export market in 2015.

This small business has supplied products to 27 different countries, across five continents, due to its aggressive export strategy and by harnessing innovations and new technologies. The strategy was based on products that could travel and be in areas where weather and economic growth could sustain profitable business. This policy was further enhanced by developing a themed experience attraction offering for theme parks, zoos, museums, water parks et cetera to provide IP and branded products.

The increase in sales to international markets has positively impacted ESF with a strong percentage of turnover attributed to export. Throughout his career, Alan Lowry, CEO & Founder, has gained respect from prestigious industry figures, enabling ESF to tender for projects that, under different circumstances, a relatively small company from Northern Ireland might not have been considered for. Their clients include companies such as Disney, McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Apple, Marriott and many more.

We’ve sought to remove the complexity of business across countries and borders, and whilst we regularly work and ship products all over the world, we want to make sure our clients receive the best service, and that often means establishing partnerships in countries.

Despite the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic, ESF focused on maintaining excellent relationships with the markets they had established, with a focus on generating repeat business and targeting new ‘closer to home markets’, and in 2021 this was rewarded with the prestigious Queens Award for International Trade.

Helping our members with good business practice and carbon reduction

Small businesses are embedded in our communities and many do so much good for their employees, supply chains and for the planet. This is not often recognised or celebrated, therefore FSB worked with the Good Business Charter to adapt the Charter to be suitable for small businesses, creating the new Good Small Business Charter.

Small businesses need to play a huge role in achieving carbon net zero ambitions. FSB made it clear to Government that its approach to net zero policymaking must be underpinned by five fair values – or principles – that will enable and inspire smaller businesses to take actions:

Ambition

Climate change policies must be ambitious enough to have definite impact on the climate change challenge, both in their timescales and their scope and they must be informed by the latest scientific evidence.

Accountability

Government, alongside regulators, should provide clear and accountable governance and ensure that climate change policies are coordinated.

Diversity of delivery

Government should support, empower, and incentivise smaller businesses to find their own ways to net zero targets, acknowledging that a one-size-fits-all approach to policy delivery may not work; and that a diverse set of business-led solutions and incentives will be needed.

Opportunity

Government must provide a level playing field, ensuring businesses of all sizes, in all sectors, across every region and nation, can contribute to a net zero economy through their innovations, their investments, and their markets.

Cost

Government climate change policies must be affordable and achievable. The costs of transition to net zero must be distributed fairly among businesses, workers, and consumers, based on their environmental impact; their ability to pay; their ability to adapt and the potential for gain.

Member story: The Wellbeing Farm, Bolton

The Wellbeing Farm is a fun, quirky and ‘magical’ events venue that prides itself on sustainability, zero carbon and business-for-good principles. The venue has implemented a stringent COVID-19 plan to ensure it is secure.

Founder Celia Gaze started the business several years ago when she had had enough of being a stressed-out new mum working at a senior position in the NHS. From that moment, Celia vowed never again to have regrets and to always make the most of her life. She went on to transform a dilapidated barn into a wedding and events venue: The Wellbeing Farm.

Corporate social responsibility is at the heart of the business. It uses self-sufficient methods, such as use of a wind turbine and is working towards a zero single-use plastic policy. The business now strives to be one of the most sustainable green and carbon-neutral venues in the UK. In 2021, it became a signatory of the Good Business Charter, following FSB’s work with the Charter to devise a scheme suitable for smaller businesses. It is also working towards becoming one of the first UK hospitality businesses to become B Corp certified, which means meeting rigorous social and environmental standards.

The business model is paying off: “Millennials seek out socially conscious brands; investors look for organisations that impact environmental and social change; global consumers will pay more for sustainable products and practices and potential employees seek out employers that reflect their values,” said Celia.

We love supporting the local economy and developing young people who work at the farm. We’re enthusiastic about working with wellbeing providers to raise wellbeing to the highest priority in Lancashire and we’re committed to doing our part in preserving the future of the planet.

Member story: The Impact Guru

Esther Stanhope first set up her business, The Impact Guru, in 2013, having previously had a successful career as a senior producer at the BBC. Her aim was to turn her passion for helping people to find their voices into a successful business, inspiring and guiding clients on how to make an impact and become more confident and charismatic with their public speaking – for presentations, pitches, or potential promotions. Her watchword is “Oomph!” 

She built a strong client base across the UK and globally, leading in-person coaching in boardrooms, meetings rooms, and auditoriums; as well as becoming a successful author on the subject. Then the pandemic hit and in March 2020 it went from a full diary to zero bookings. “All my public speaking events were cancelled all over the world,” says Esther. But she successfully pivoted and went from a guru of in-person public speaking to a guru of virtual presentation. 

Everything looked doom and gloom as COVID hit. Speakers, like me, took a heavy beating with the overnight collapse of the event industry. Yet here we are…not only did I manage to get my business back on track but, by a lot of hard work, pivoting and re-planning I managed to grow and expand.

“I forced myself to embrace virtual meetings and events,” says Esther. “It wasn’t easy. I wasn’t 100 per cent comfortable in front of the camera! I really had to stretch my comfort zone to the max. Before, I helped senior leaders to be more charismatic during boardroom meetings. Now, I help them to make an impact on Zoom and Teams.”

Download the full report

To read the full report including accounts and overviews from the National and Vice chairs click below: