How innovative are British Businesses and what’s stopping them?

By Annette White

“We are a nation of innovators, creators and entrepreneurs” stated Business Secretary Greg Clark in 2018. Whilst this may be true historically, how does British Business Innovation stack up today? To find out, the BVA BDRC Business Opinion Omnibus questioned 1,200 financial decision makers.

In the past three years around a third of UK Businesses have neither developed a new product or service nor significantly improved an aspect of their business.  This is despite giving themselves an average score of 6.5 on a scale where 1 is ‘not at all innovative’ and 10 is ‘extremely innovative’.

Whilst businesses across all sectors give themselves the same average rating for innovation, those in the manufacturing sector have clearly been doing more, with 86% undertaking innovation activities in the past three years compared to 64 - 74% in other sectors.

British business innovation past

The majority of businesses (77%) believe it is the same or easier to be innovative that it was 5 years ago.

What about future plans?

Overall, plans for future innovation are looking slightly more cautious, although this does vary to some extent by sector.

British business innovation future

More significant differences in planning are seen across business sizes, with large organisations much more likely to be planning innovations than smaller businesses (84% of those with 250 or more employees compared to 59% with less than 250).

What would make businesses more innovative?

Successive governments and ministers have certainly paid lip service to innovation and have introduced a multitude of policies to increase it. But what do businesses think is stopping them from innovating?

We found that pressure to cut costs, lack of time, economic uncertainty, lack of finance or funding and a lack of skills are the main barriers to innovation.

Interestingly, 17% of UK businesses believe that the products and services they already offer are ‘as good as they could be’. Perhaps we could conduct some research to see if consumers agree!

When businesses look ahead, staff skills present more of a barrier to future innovation. This mirrors what we found whilst researching for the Scale Up Institutes 2018 report. Having staff with better training or more relevant skills and knowledge would help around two-thirds of businesses improve their levels of innovation. These issues with the quality of staff are more significant for larger organisations.

Other factors that would help innovation that were expressed by around a quarter of businesses are:

  • being less tied up with day to day issues
  • more support initiatives from the Government
  • a Brexit deal providing more certainty
  • better equipment or technology

Questions were asked to 1,200 financial decision makers via the BVA BDRC Business Opinion Omnibus. If you would like to place your own questions on this or any topic on the Business Opinion Omnibus then please get in touch with Annette White
(annette.white@bva-bdrc.com / 07854 146792)

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