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Better SME connectivity could contribute more than £5bn a year to local economies

Operator research finds almost two-thirds of small to medium-sized enterprises in UK’s second city reveal their business could grow faster if they had access to better tech

Research from technology provider Three Business has highlighted digital connectivity as a vital enabler for doing business and a key driver for growth, with improvements in connectivity able to not only support individual firms, but also the areas in which they are based.

The research was commissioned by Three UK and undertaken by Censuswide and Development Economics. Censuswide surveyed more than 500 senior decision-makers in SME businesses based in the UK – specifically in key regions of Birmingham – to gauge their opinions on usage, understanding, time and monetary costs of technology in business.

Putting the key issues into context, the study found the vast majority of SME leaders in Birmingham (90%) and Manchester (82%) said they find the current economic climate difficult to navigate.

Moreover, it revealed that just over half (53%) of Birmingham businesses, and just under half (44%) of Manchester businesses think they could lose good employees as a result of poor connectivity.

With growth front of mind for SMEs, almost two-thirds (63%) in Birmingham said their business could grow faster if they had access to better tech, compared with 53% of Manchester SMEs – much higher than the national average of 43%. Meanwhile, nearly half in both cities (46% in Birmingham and 48% in Manchester) thought their business could be left behind because of poor tech, compared with 39% across the country.

The SMEs in Birmingham and Manchester businesses also identified where they would like extra support. Almost two-thirds (62%) of Birmingham SMEs felt that better connectivity would ease some of the financial pressures they are facing, with 56% of Manchester SMEs agreeing. Some 54% and 46% of Birmingham and Manchester SMEs respectively said they would welcome connectivity grants as well as guidance on how to get the most out of their connectivity, while 42% of Birmingham businesses said they would like support paying bills, rising to 48% of Manchester businesses.

In addition, better connectivity among Manchester SMEs was calculated to be able to contribute an extra £2.2bn a year to the local economy, with the number rising to £3.09bn for Birmingham.

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Looking to respond to the needs of companies, Three Business has announced a new grant scheme worth £300,000 for SMEs across both regions. Businesses can apply to receive one of several 5G Business SIM packages, as well as 5G Business Broadband for two years.

“Businesses frequently tell us that great connectivity is one of the biggest enablers of growth, impacting all aspects of running their business – from the experience they can provide to their customers to how happy their employees are and how well they can carry out their jobs,” said Snehal Bhudia, director of business propositions and go to market at Three Business. “That’s why we’re providing connectivity grants to businesses in Birmingham, so they can focus on doing what they do best and contribute to their local economies.”

Henrietta Brealey, CEO of Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce, added: “Birmingham’s business community is diverse, entrepreneurial and very skilled at adapting, particularly after the last few years. Three’s research shows that local businesses are highly aware of the potential for digital technology to either drive growth or risk leaving late adopters behind. But in a cost of doing business crisis, finding the cash and capacity to invest can be challenging.

“That is why we are delighted to support these grants,” she said. “While work is underway to improve digital connectivity through the Digital City Programme, there’s a real need here and now to get businesses better connected. I’d encourage all Birmingham-based SMEs reading this to take a look and consider applying.”

Chris Fletcher, policy director of Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, said: “Recent events such as Covid-19 have shown how important digital connectivity is for SMEs. Yet, SMEs suffer from poorer connectivity when compared with their large business counterparts. The implications of this divide are reduced opportunities and the inability of these businesses to develop operational resilience.

“For SMEs, the barrier to good connectivity is not just availability but also affordability,” he said. “The huge growth in hybrid working, online meetings and e-commerce that we’ve seen over the last couple of years means that having good connectivity is vital for local companies. We’re delighted to be supporting Three UK with this new scheme as connectivity is a big concern for Greater Manchester businesses. Businesses will now be able to grow and take advantage of the new opportunities that are available if the tech they’re using isn’t slowing them down.”

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