17 Nov 2008

Baby-boomers forced to delay retirement

Findings of the Quarterly Survey of Small Business in Britain: 2008 Q3

The future UK economy will rely on an army of aging entrepreneurs if the opinions expressed in the latest Open University Business School research report become a reality. The Barclays-sponsored survey of over 250 owner managers conducted between September and October 2008 reflects the gathering storm of recession and finance market turmoil. Around one third of respondents expect to struggle on their pension and approaching half of those aged 60 or over expect that they will have to carry on in business longer than they intended due to the economic downturn.

Further detailed questioning shows that the average age of retirement is likely to be 67 with a significant number resigned to working into their 70s. Only 18% expect to have a comfortable pension when they retire indicating recent erosion in pension value and a prediction that the business will not generate enough future income. More worryingly, 8% of small business owners report they do not have any pension provision at all.

Firms that respond to the survey are drawn from a wide range of sources to reflect the complexity as well as the national distribution of UK small and medium enterprises. The survey reports in each issue on changes in sales, employment investment and process, and on the ranking of most important problems experienced by small firms.

With the economic climate ranked as the greatest business problem facing smaller firms, Quarter Three findings make tough reading, especially as sales confidence continues its downward trend of the past year. For the first time in six years, more small firms now expect a sales fall than a rise and investment plans have crashed to their lowest level in sixteen years.

Professor Colin Gray of The Open University Business School, and editor of the survey says: “These rather alarming findings reflect the steadily falling sales and consumer demand measured by our surveys over this past year. The findings suggest that the effects of the downturn may be deeper than feared and provide further evidence in support of recent calls from many quarters for special measures to help small firms withstand the full force of the recession.”

Editor's Notes
1. The Quarterly Survey of Small Business in Britain was founded in 1984 by Graham Bannock as the first national, regular survey of small firms in the UK. The findings were previously published as the NatWest/SBRT Quarterly Survey of Small Business in Britain and, from the first quarter 2002 until the first quarter of 2007, as the NatWest/SERTeam Quarterly Survey of Small Business in Britain. The surveys are now conducted directly through the Open University Business School, with support from Barclays Bank and the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) This report is based on the 96th survey in the series.

A single issue of the report costs £50 (including post and packaging) and £180 for an annual subscription. A PDF version by e-mail is available for £20 and £70 for annual subscription

2. The enterprise research team at The Open University Business School focuses on:
• conducting and publishing entrepreneurship and small business research
• improving understanding of key enterprise issues
• working with and supporting other small business organisations

Contact Small Enterprise Research, The Open University Business School,
Tel: 01908 655831 or e-mail:

3. Colin Gray is Professor of Enterprise Development in the Innovation, Knowledge and Enterprise centre of the Open University Business School. He has been actively associated with these quarterly surveys since 1985. He can be contacted at

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