How the pandemic has impacted business spending in the UK

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No one ever said that running a business was a straight forward venture. There are countless things to factor into every single work day. Whether it’s generating leads for new clients, distributing your products or managing staff.

This last year has been an even bigger challenge for businesses, with many experiencing more ups and downs than ever before. 

For many companies, they’ve been unable to plan properly. The pandemic has created an unstable landscape to operate within, throwing curveballs at business owners when they’re making decisions for the future of their company. 

But besides making plans for the future, if there’s been one element of business that has caused the most stress, it’s money.

Managing finances has been a difficult time for business owners and their staff throughout the pandemic. Reduced cash flow, delayed invoices and wasted rent money has seen businesses face unprecedented monetary losses.

But businesses have bounced back. Redirecting spending over the last twelve months has shown us how prioritising different elements of business expenses can preserve companies. 

We wanted to take a closer look at how the pandemic has influenced and affected the way that businesses manage their finances. Our top data analysts looked into our internal data, provided by over 98,924 of UK businesses. 

They analysed the areas of business spending that increased and decreased from May 2020 to April 2021. 

Cross referencing specific events over the UK’s COVID19 timeline, we can now reveal exactly how the pandemic has influenced business owner’s financial decisions, and where their priorities lie.

Overall expenses

Our analysts found that over the course of the pandemic, general expenses across all aspects of business have increased from an average monthly spend of £801 per submission in May 2020, to £947 in May 2021 as per monthly transactions. 

To gain a better understanding of where businesses directed their cash in response to key events during the pandemic, we’ve broken down these spending habits into different sections.

How the pandemic has impacted business spending in the UK

Travel

Once the pandemic took hold of the UK, an immediate change we all experienced was a huge slow down in travel. No more business dealings abroad, or travelling to meet new clients. Companies were grounded to their work from home setups, and travel expenses plummeted. 

Our internal data can reveal the true extent of these savings. In May 2020, when the lockdown was in full swing, companies paid out in travel expenses just £136 per submission, half of what the normal trend.

Companies paid out £8.3m in overall travel expenses in May 2020. 

As travel became more accessible for professionals conducting business, we saw travel costs across businesses slowly rise. They doubled in January 2021, rising to £270 on average per submission.

They rose exponentially in January 2021, increasing to £30.3m, with £2.8m accounting for international travel.

Our data analysts found that April 2021 was the most costly since the first lockdown for businesses looking to travel. On average, companies paid out £518 per submission on overall travel, including meals, rental vehicles, and accommodation. 

On average companies paid out £56.3m in April 2021 on overall travel; including meals, rental vehicles and accommodation. £24.8m accounted for travel within the UK, and £4.1m for international travel.

Rent

Monthly average numbers per transactions showed that rent payments dropped to their lowest point in November 2020 (£2,048 per submission), after the announcement of the second lockdown. 

This is compared to £2,873 in May 2020, and £2,235 per submission in January 2021, after the other UK lockdowns were announced.

The pandemic grounding many of us to our makeshift desks, also changed priorities for businesses who rent out working spaces. 

Our internal data highlights how much of a difference this made for companies who left offices on a more permanent basis. Small businesses across the UK are spending 3% less on rent on average, compared to the beginning of the pandemic.

In May 2020, businesses were paying on average £2,873 per submission in rent. This dropped to its lowest figure in November 2020, with companies paying £2,048 per submission for their work spaces.

As things have slowly begun to open back up, these figures began to rise. We can reveal that September 2020 saw the highest costs in rent for UK businesses, with an average of £3,036 being paid out per monthly transaction.

Businesses recorded more settled figures in May 2021, as our data revealed that £2,795 per submission was the average figure companies were redirecting to their rent costs. 

Contractors

Some businesses have had to make painful decisions on whether or not they can afford to keep staff members, but others have looked to contractors to help them deliver their services.

Our internal data highlights that August was the month with the lowest spending, with companies directing £1,519 per submission of their cash towards contractors per average monthly transaction. That’s £516 per submission less than May 2020. However, contractor spending did increase as the year progressed, with May 2021 seeing businesses pay out £1,646 per submission for subcontractors per monthly transaction.

This indicates that despite financial concerns, companies managed to continue prioritising their staff and external contractors to get the job done.

Training

Despite turbulent times surrounding staff members, some businesses did manage to direct their cash to improving their staff during the pandemic. Companies paid out an overall average of £7,218 per submission in staff training since May 2020.

As businesses began to reopen, training clearly became a priority as May 2021 was the most costly month for training employees (£870), compared to just £572 per submission in May 2020.

Software Subscriptions

Small businesses spent 61% more on average on software subscriptions, compared to twelve months ago, with companies paying out £242 per submission in May 2020, and £390 in May 2021.

This may indicate that small businesses had to plug the gap in technology for their staff working from home, after adjusting to the national lockdowns over the last year.

Many of us have had to handle the switch from in person meetings and office chats, to Zoom calls and Microsoft Teams. As a result, we’ve seen an increase in businesses spending their money on software subscriptions. 

At the start of the pandemic, businesses paid £242 per submission on average for software, compared with £427 in March 2021 and £389 in May 2021.

Computer Equipment

Compared to May 2020 (£397 per submission), small businesses across the UK spent 74% more on computer equipment per average monthly transaction in January 2021 (£690 per submission). 

These increases in spending were also seen shortly after the second lockdown was announced in November 2020 (£458 per submission), suggesting equipment had to be purchased due to more employees opting to work from home.

Similar trends can be seen in companies prioritising money for computer equipment. In May 2020, businesses spent £397 per submission for technology per average monthly transaction. 

Over the last year, this spending has steadily increased, with companies spending £456 per submission more on overall computer equipment in May 2021.

Insurance

Insurance costs rose throughout the course of the pandemic, with small businesses paying 50% more on insurance compared to twelve months ago, as per average monthly transactions.

That’s £3,001 per submission in May 2020 to £4,534 in May 2021.

Insurance spend went on to increase by 63% in November 2020 (£4,882 per submission), following the announcement of the second lockdown. 

The pandemic has introduced a new standard of instability for companies to adjust to, with unprecedented levels of concerns and issues to be dealt with on a daily basis. 

Our analysis has revealed that insurance has become a focus for many businesses who are looking for protection from any potential financial losses. In May 2020, companies paid out £3,001 per submission in insurance, increasing to £4,534 by April 2021 as per the average monthly transactions.

Our internal data highlights a trend with insurance costs rising in line with national lockdowns, as businesses scramble to protect their businesses.

Figures peaked in November 2020, with businesses directing £4,882 per submission to protect themselves through insurance. This comes shortly after the second national lockdown was announced at the beginning of the month. 

This was followed by a second peak in January. In December 2020, insurance figures dropped to £4,514 per submission as per the average monthly transaction. But after the announcement of the third national lockdown, similar patterns to the second lockdown regarding insurance payments were seen; as figures rose to £5,576 per submissions in January 2021.

The pandemic has definitely challenged even the most experienced business people throughout the last year. 

We’re glad to see that companies have found ways around these financial issues, and it’s incredibly interesting to see how each key event over the last year has influenced companies’ decisions.

PPE & Protective Clothing

PPE expenses rose over the last year, with January costing businesses £1,825 per submission in protective clothing, as per the average monthly transaction. This is a huge 500% increase in comparison to May 2020 (£304 per submission).

For many businesses, the first course of action was kitting out their offices and employees with masks, gloves and hand sanitiser to keep everyone safe. 

But this came at a cost for small businesses, with the beginning of the pandemic seeing them spend £304 per submission in May 2020. As non-essential businesses reopened in June 2020, these expenses rose in response to £809 in July 2020.

However, January was the most costly, with the average monthly transaction amounting to £1,825 per submission for businesses paying for PPE. 

This then dropped down to £182 per submission in May 2021.

Cleaning 

Cleaning the workspace took £2,923 per submission of business cash over the pandemic, according to the average monthly transaction. 

Keeping the workspace clean is just as important, with small businesses investing in cleaning equipment, office cleaners and other services to keep everything safe for workers.

These payments also seem to be in response to lockdown announcements. After the announcement of the second lockdown, cleaning expenses went from £190 per submission in September 2020, to £384 in October 2020 (as per average monthly transactions).

Health & Safety

Ensuring all employees and customers are safe was at the forefront of everybody’s mind, with businesses spending £3,479 per submission on health and safety over the last 12 months. 

It’s not just cleanliness that matters when it comes to keeping your employees safe. 

Over the course of the pandemic, businesses prioritised an average of £267 per submission on general health and safety.

As we all became increasingly more aware of our general wellbeing, spending increased steadily too. With businesses spending £275 per submission in May 2020, £288 in December 2020 and £408 in May 2021.

The pandemic has definitely challenged even the most experienced business people throughout the last year. 

We’re glad to see that companies have found ways around these financial issues, and it’s incredibly interesting to see how each key event over the last year has influenced companies’ decisions.