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SME Survey: Day Zero Warning Hits SMEs Hard

SME Survey is the original and largest representative survey since 2003 to measure the forces shaping SME competitiveness in South Africa.

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Running a small business goes hand-in-hand with being kept awake at night, worrying about big issues and their consequences on the market and business operations. However, the biggest challenges tend to be magnified by the messages in the media. Rarely has this been as dramatic as in small- and medium-sized enterprise (SME) owners’ reactions to the announcement of ‘Day Zero’ in Cape Town, according to a research report released today.

The SME Survey 2018 shows that before the December holidays, just 8% of SMEs indicated that they were concerned about water shortages. But when the Survey resumed after the holidays, and in the wake of the announcement by the Cape Town city council that taps would actually run dry on a specific date, SME anxiety around the severe lack of water jumped to 44%. It was clear that the announcement sent a massive shock through the South African business world.

Related: 5 Things SME’s Need To Be Thinking About In 2018

Arthur Goldstuck, MD of World Wide Worx and principal analyst of SME Survey, says, “It is quite astonishing to note the difference between the point when everyone knew there was a drought and the actual drawing of a line in the sand by local authorities in announcing a date when water would run out. This clearly had a massive impact on SME owners’ equanimity. Obviously, when looked at regionally, water shortage fears are less prominent in provinces like Gauteng (15%) and KwaZulu-Natal (9%), but it leaped to 71% in the Western Cape, raising the national average significantly.

“While it has become clear over the years that regional factors do affect SMEs, the biggest concerns about the broader business environment are structural. This is why, in the past, we have – for example – seen concerns raised around construction for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, which caused massive traffic disruption, as well huge anxiety about load shedding a decade ago. While predominantly a regional issue, we can say that water shortages are the load shedding of 2018.”

The number one concern for small business decision-makers, in the broader business environment, is still the competition (46%), closely followed by water shortages. The third biggest fear, one which has dropped significantly from previous iterations of the Survey, was crime, which only 16% of SMEs noted keeps them awake at night.

“In the same vein, fraud and corruption also feature, but not as heavily as one might expect”, says Goldstuck. He points out that only 11% of SMEs said they were kept awake by corruption, while just 8% were concerned about fraud.

“On the other hand, when asked if they were aware of corruption in their particular industry, one in four – 25% – stated that they were. However, only 10% claimed to have had to deal with it directly.”

Related: 9 Different Kinds Of SME Funding

“It is also worth noting the difference in perceptions prior to the ANC Elective Conference in December and those post-conference. Prior to the conference, 23% of SMEs stated they were aware of corruption in their sector, while 28% said they were aware of it post-conference. This could be attributed to the large-scale unravelling of state capture that has occurred since the beginning of 2018. A similar, but positive, trend was seen with corruption keeping them awake at night: pre-conference, 14% were worried about corruption, but after Cyril Ramaphosa was elected ANC president, the level of concern dropped to just 7%.”

Goldstuck adds that a similar path can be traced for fears about fraud, with 11% being kept awake by this concern before the elective conference, while only 5% named it as a worry in 2018. There can be no doubt, he states, that these results again demonstrate the importance of media coverage around, and exposure of, corruption and fraud.

“Of course, there are also internal fears that keep SME owners awake at night, and the number one concern about their businesses remains cash flow, with 39% of respondents anxious about this issue. A close second is the headache related to finding the right staff (34%).

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Government Injection To SMEs Cautiously Welcomed

Mboweni said the Jobs Fund is a vital complement to private sector job creation. “The Fund has disbursed R4.6bn in grant funding, and created well over 200,000 jobs since inception. The allocation to this Fund will rise over the next three years to R1.1bn,” said Mboweni.

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Riversands Incubation Hub has welcomed the allocation of R481.6m of the 2019 national budget to the Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA) to expand the small business incubation programme, saying this will strengthen co-ordination and partnership agreements with other SME agencies and incubation programmes.

“South Africa’s entrepreneurial economy is built on linkages and networks across industry sectors, and the stronger these are, the higher the chances of SMEs surviving and thriving, which is critical if the economy is to grow,” says Jenny Retief, CEO of Riversands Incubation Hub.

Finance Minister Tito Mboweni also undertook to free entrepreneurs from stifling regulations and complicated taxes, which Retief said would encourage and boost trade in this sector. “The frustrations that many entrepreneurs feel in the current business space, which is overburdened with tax red tape and obstructive labour regulations, will hopefully be alleviated. The sustainability of many early-stage SMEs is significantly dependent on ease of doing business,” says Retief.

Mboweni said the Jobs Fund is a vital complement to private sector job creation. “The Fund has disbursed R4.6bn in grant funding, and created well over 200,000 jobs since inception. The allocation to this Fund will rise over the next three years to R1.1bn,” said Mboweni.

The Government has also allocated R19.8bn for industrial business incentives, of which R600m has gone to the clothing and textile competitiveness programme. This will support 35 500 existing jobs and create about 25 000 new jobs over the next three years.

“It is particularly exciting to see this commitment, because the lack of locally produced textiles is a significant constraint for the local fashion industry. It also offers strong synergies for desperately needed rural development. A counterpart in the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform was recently telling me about South Africa’s capacity to produce a superb range of raw materials such as wool – not only from sheep but also alpacas and of course cotton. Building the local textile industry to beneficiate these raw materials offers benefits all round,” comments Retief.

Retief said these injections will stimulate entrepreneurship in sectors that are under-resourced, but that ongoing support is essential to ensuring that these jobs survive. “Business savvy and financial literacy is a road that requires solid guidance along the way. This is where incubation programmes such as ours provide critical value and sustainability,” says Retief.

Retief endorsed the recent call by the Small Business Institute for the Finance Ministry to request an audit of government’s overall financial support to small businesses, to gauge where targets are not being met and equally, where there are success stories. “This will provide a clearer picture of where fiscal priorities should lie going forward,” said Retief.

While the allocation of R69bn towards the plan to unbundle Eskom is laudable, Retief said it remains to be seen whether this will improve the prognosis for Eskom, and by extension, the viability of millions of entrepreneurs and SMEs dependent on consistent electricity flow. “Ongoing load-shedding would be nothing short of disastrous for countless small businesses across the country, so we will be watching the Eskom situation closely in the coming months. Our own business has also been set back by power cuts over the past month,” says Retief.

Mboweni’s emphasis on the private sector as the key engine for job creation was correctly placed, along with his policy actions aimed at ending the uncertainty that has undermined confidence and constrained private sector investment, Retief said. “The devil is in the detail, however, and the sooner entrepreneurs and SMEs feel these differences, the more growth we will see from this vital sector,” she says.

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#Budget2019: But What About Small Businesses?

Where is the focus on growing South Africa’s small business sector?

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That is the overriding question we are left with at the end of Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s maiden budget speech. The few mentions the Minister made about Small & Medium Businesses were short on detail at a time when we desperately need to supercharge the growth of this segment.

A highlight of the speech from Sage’s perspective was the Minister’s acknowledgement that we must free small businesses from stifling regulations and complicated taxes because we desperately need them to boost employment and drive competition. This aligns with President Ramaphosa’s pledge to improve the ease of doing business in his State of the Nation Address this year.

However, these pronouncements need to be followed rapidly by concrete policies and regulation. We believe that there are many steps government could take to streamline red-tape for small businesses -from streamlining some SARS processes such as VAT refunds and issuing of tax clearance certificates to increasing the maximum thresholds for turnover tax and VAT registration.

We hope to hear more about such steps after the May general election and in the October Medium Term Budget Policy Statement.

One welcome announcement in the speech was the allocation of R481.6 million to the Small Enterprise Development Agency to expand the small business incubation programme. Such programmes can play an invaluable role in helping small businesses to survive the difficult start-up phase and then scale up into larger businesses.

As a software company, we were also pleased that the Minister spoke about using the budget to get our country ready for technology. His focus on the importance of technology in education, his commitment to working with the Minister of Communications to resolve the issue of spectrum licensing in order to drive down data costs, and his mention of FinTech innovation programmes at the Reserve Bank all point to a focus on creating a competitive, digital country that ready for the future.

However, I would have liked to have seen more of a specific focus on innovation as a vehicle for driving economic growth. The fourth industrial revolution and the rise of a digital economy has been a theme of recent government speeches and addresses, and it would be good to see the words matched with investments and policies.

On the whole, Minister Mboweni and the National Treasury have done a good job of negotiating a challenging economic climate. They are to be commended for balancing the books, keeping a lid on government spending, taking steps to put Eskom and other state-owned entities on a more sustainable footing, and committing towards investing in infrastructure.

Such steps could help boost business confidence and create an enabling environment for businesses of all sizes. As the Minister notes, the private sector is the key engine for job creation. Taking policy actions that offer more certainty to the business community will help to reinvigorate investment in the economy and unlock entrepreneurial activity.

Budget2019: Commentary by Rob Cooper

General comments

As expected, this was a conservative budget with no sweeping changes to most forms of taxation. The Finance Minister took advantage of some new revenue sources such as carbon taxes, but, for the most part, continued to stick to the script of limiting bracket creep adjustment, sin taxes and fuel levies to raise more money.

We can but hope that the decision for the government not to take on Eskom’s debt and a reduction of public expenditure by around R50 billion since the October mini-budget will be enough to convince Moody’s not to downgrade South Africa’s sovereign credit rating.

Personal income tax

The Minister and his team have raised income taxes by stealth by choosing not to adjust tax brackets to allow for inflation this year. Unlike previous years, even low- and middle-income earners are not getting much respite. Rebates and the tax threshold are being increased by small amounts to allow a bit of relief from inflation, but most people earning above the tax threshold (raised from R78,150 to R79,000) will feel some pain.  This measure will raise around R12.8 billion in revenue for the tax year. 

National Health Insurance

The Finance Minister decided not to apply an inflationary increase to the Medical Tax Credit, which will allow him to raise an extra R1 billion in revenue for the year. This is not surprising since government is phasing out this credit and gearing up for a wider rollout of the National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme.

What is surprising is that the funds will be allocated to general revenue rather than NHI, as was the case in previous years when below-inflation increase on medical scheme credits were used to fund NHI pilot projects. I am glad that the tax credit is still with us because it helps to make private medical cover affordable for millions of low-income South Africans. We heard no news about how the NHI will be funded and will need to wait for the government to table the bill that includes funding to find out more.

Employment tax incentive

It was heartening to hear that about 1.1 million young people have been employed under the Employment Tax Incentive scheme. The incentive of up to R1 000 can now be claimed for employees earning up to R4,500 per month, up from R4,000, and the remuneration threshold has been increased by R500 to R6,500. This is a necessary and welcome adjustment for inflation.

Bearing in mind that the ETI has been extend for 10 years, I was hoping for an indication in the budget that the policy-makers will be considering changes to simplify the ETI requirements, thereby increasing the take-up by employers.

Tax collection

We can expect to see tax reforms in the years to come, with Minister Mboweni recommitting to improving administration at SARS. Judge Dennis Davis will be assessing the tax gap — the difference between revenue SARS collects and what it should collect. Restoring SARS to a world-class administration machine and improving compliance could go a long way to cushioning compliant taxpayers from tax increases and new taxes in the year to come.

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2019 National Budget Speech: Five Positive, Key Take Outs For Local SMEs

Finance Minister Tito Mboweni today referenced the private sector as the key engine for job creation in his National Budget speech.

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Ben Bierman, MD of Business Partners Limited, fully supports this statement, and says that there are five key take outs that local small and medium enterprises (SMEs) will benefit from:

1. Falling data costs

Minister Mboweni was adamant that the cost of data must fall, and committed to work relentlessly with the necessary parties to ensure this happens. As data gets cheaper, there will be more opportunities for SMEs and entrepreneurs to build their business and for new technology businesses to emerge. Making data more affordable and accessible can go a long way in driving economic and SME growth.

2. The R30 billion allocated to build new schools and maintain school infrastructure spend

National infrastructure spend is likely to be a big contributor to SME growth, and will create positive knock-on effects for job creation in the sector. Not only will SMEs be included in the supply stream, but as infrastructure projects are rolled out, economic growth will be positively impacted, having a downstream effect on small business.

3. Relaxed visa requirements

Relaxed visa requirements provide an enhanced opportunity for SMEs operating in the tourism industry, driving growth and the creation of new jobs. As tourism is a substantial contributor to the country’s GDP, the increasing the number of visitors to South Africa is extremely beneficial to the macro environment as well as for businesses operating both directly and indirectly in the tourism sector.

4. Allocation of R3.2 billion to operationalise the small business and innovation fund over the MTEF

The R3.2 billion budget allocation for the small business and innovation fund is a definite positive development for the country’s entrepreneurial eco-system and is anticipated to contribute to the creation of more innovative businesses that can respond to the opportunities presented by the 4th Industrial Revolution.

Also noteworthy is the R481.6 million allocated to the Small Enterprise Development Agency’s incubation programme expected to bolster the creation of new businesses and survival rate of existing businesses.

5. Industrial business incentives

The R19.8 billion allocated to industrial business incentives will not only benefit the national economy as a whole, but it will yield opportunities for local industrial SMEs and create job opportunities.

The R600 million assigned to the clothing and textile competitiveness programme is also a much needed boost to revitalise this struggling sector of our economy that has historically been a driver of economic growth.

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