• Did you save some cash for a rainy COVID-19 day? The crisis and SMEs

      Cowling, Marc; Brown, Ross; Rocha, Augusto; University of Derby; University of St Andrews (SAGE, 2020-08-04)
      As COVID-19 spreads across the globe, a common public policy response has been to enforce the temporary closure of non-essential business activity. In some countries, governments have underwritten a proportion of the wage income for staff forced to furlough or broadened their welfare systems to accommodate newly laid off workers or small business owners. While these actions are helpful, they do not explicitly address the lack of sales trading activity on business income and cash balances. In commentary, we identify what types of businesses have been increasing their cash holdings in the lead up to COVID-19 as an indication of what types of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are most at risk if the lockdown extends for a protracted period of time. We find that only 39% of the of businesses were bolstering their cash balances leading up to COVID-19 which suggests that 61% of businesses may run out of cash, including 8.6% that had no retained earnings whatsoever with micro firms at particular risk. The importance of precautionary saving for SMEs is critical to enhance resilience when Black Swan events occur.
    • The geographical impact of the Covid-19 crisis on precautionary savings, firm survival and jobs: Evidence from the United Kingdom’s 100 largest towns and cities

      Brown, Ross; Cowling, Marc; University of St Andrews; University of Derby (SAGE Journals, 2021-01-28)
      In this commentary, we trace the economic and spatial consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic in terms of potential business failure and the associated job losses across the 100 largest cities and towns in the United Kingdom (UK). The article draws on UK survey data of 1500 firms of different size classes examining levels of firm-level precautionary savings. On business failure risk, we find a clear and unequal impact on poorer northern and peripheral urban areas of the UK, indicative of weak levels of regional resilience, but a more random distribution in terms of job losses. Micro firms and the largest firms are the greatest drivers of aggregate job losses. We argue that spatially blind enterprise policies are insufficient to tackle the crisis and better targeted regional policies will be paramount in the future to help mitigate the scarring effects of the Covid-19 pandemic in terms of firm failures and the attendant job losses. We conclude that Covid-19 has made the stated intention of the current government’s ambition to ‘level up’ the forgotten and left-behind towns and cities of the UK an even more distant policy objective than prior to the crisis.
    • The geography of business angel investments in the UK: Does local bias (still) matter?

      Cowling, Marc; Brown, Ross; Lee, Neil; University of Derby; University of St Andrews; London School of Economics and Political Science (SAGE Publishing, 2021-01-20)
      Business angels (BAs) - high net worth individuals who provide informal risk capital to firms - are seen as important providers of entrepreneurial finance. Theory and conventional wisdom suggest that the need for face-to-face interaction will ensure angels will have a strong predilection for local investments. We empirically test this assumption using a large representative survey of UK BAs. Our results show local bias is less common than previously thought with only one quarter of total investments made locally. However, we also show pronounced regional disparities, with investment activity dominated by BAs in London and Southern England. In these locations there is a stronger propensity for localised investment patterns mediated by the ‘thick’ nature of the informal risk capital market. Together these trends further reinforce and exacerbate the disparities evident in the UK’s financial system. The findings make an important contribution to the literature and public policy debates on the uneven nature of financial markets for sources of entrepreneurial finance.