SMEs are in a state of ‘paralysis’ according to the latest findings from Association of Chartered Certified Accountants UK (ACCA) and The Corporate Finance Network (CFN) SME Tracker.

A total of 77.8% of accountants’ small business clients are not expecting to return to pre-Covid levels of production and turnover for at least a year, raising questions about their confidence and willingness to invest.

In addition, just over a quarter (26.8%) have made plans for surviving another lockdown, despite the worrying increase in the so-called Indian variant of Covid-19.

Last month, non-essential retail and outdoor hospitality was allowed to reopen in England, however 33% of respondents reported early trade was lower or much lower than expected.

In the longer-term outlook, only 16% of micro businesses have made permanent changes to their business strategy in the light of the global pandemic, despite the effects of the health crisis posing fundamental threats to some sectors.

ACCA UK head Claire Bennison said: “We see a clear theme emerging from our accountants and their small business clients. A lack of clarity in government messaging and the slow pace at which some support schemes are currently rolling out are leaving them in a state of paralysis.

“The unintended consequence of this uncertainty is to leave them lacking confidence in their ability to secure the financing necessary to get back up to speed as quickly as possible.”

CFN founder Kirsty McGregor said: “Current recovery schemes are moving much too slowly for small businesses and there is widespread confusion in various sectors about what the government will do next.

“The temptation is for small business owners to remain cautious and delay investment, which will only postpone a return to normal trading. There will inevitably be insolvencies in the coming months, but some of those will be avoidable if owners are able to examine whether their business strategy is still suitable for a post-Covid world.”

The survey reported data from accountants representing 10,839 SME clients and ran until 19 May.