Full scale: how to ensure more British firms grow to their potential

Think tank: Social Market Foundation

Author(s): John Asthana Gibson; Aveek Bhattacharya

September 26, 2023

This report from UK think tank the Social Market Foundation highlights other barriers holding UK businesses back from expanding.

The UK is an attractive place to start a business, but those start-ups find it harder than in other countries to scale up. This SMF report looks beyond the issue of access to capital to highlight other barriers holding UK businesses back from expanding and realising their full potential. Many of the measures aiming to support scale-ups, such as the creation of the British Business Bank, have focused on the issue of their access to capital. This report argues that, although finance is an important obstacle due to weak institutional investment and a lack of venture capital investment outside of London and the South-East, it is neither the only, nor the most important, barrier to the growth of scale-ups. Contributors to our expert roundtable echoed evidence from the Longitudinal Small Business Survey that the main barrier was access to skills. Both the education system and the immigration system contribute to this shortfall. Other obstacles include the UK’s restrictive planning system for housing and infrastructure, barriers to accessing foreign markets, the tendency of the Government and businesses to favour established businesses in procurement, government regulation and the UK’s business culture. The report contains 10 recommendations for how to overcome these obstacles, from establishing a cross-governmental Scale-ups Unit and reforming the visa system to investing in addressing skills shortages.