The Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee has decided to raise interest rates once again – from 0.75% to 1%. It is the fourth consecutive rise since December, and comes against the backdrop and amidst the challenges of a cost of living and what is becoming a cost of doing business crisis.
Business associations react to the news
East Midlands Chamber Chief Executive Scott Knowles said: “The acceleration of interest rates hikes over the past few months is becoming an increasing concern for businesses, which have until now relied on low repayment fees to make sizeable investments in their people, plant and machinery.
“While the latest rise, framed by the Bank of England as a method of tackling the escalating cost of living, was expected, it further squeezes the margins on firms at a time when they are already dealing with increased overheads for staff, energy and raw materials.
“Against a backdrop of growing domestic and global headwinds including the terrible events in Ukraine, it will be viewed by many as a further step in a prolonged period of aggressive monetary tightening at a time when consumers and businesses are struggling under a myriad of rising cost pressures.
“Our latest Quarterly Economic Survey for Q1 2022 shows two-thirds (67%) of East Midlands companies expect they will be forced to raise their prices over the next three months as a result, leading to a very real cost of doing business crisis.
“Cashflow went into negative territory for three out of 10 of our region’s organisations at the beginning of this year and raising interest rates is another deterrent to future investment – which ultimately is what enables businesses to improve productivity in order to create growth, jobs and wealth in their communities.
“The Government simply must do more to ease the burden on small and medium-sized businesses, which are crucial to steering the economic recovery.”
Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) chair Martin McTague said: “Small businesses are caught between a rock and a hard place: spiralling operating costs on one side, rising personal and professional debt costs on the other.
“The hope is that today’s move goes some way to putting the brakes on input price inflation in a way that hasn’t been achieved by previous rate rises, mitigating the pain of higher debt repayments.
“When we spoke to members over the first lockdown, the majority were carrying debt, and four in ten were concerned that their debt was now ‘unmanageable’.
“Those with bounce-backs are rightly protected with a fixed rate on those facilities, but a lot of the wider personal and professional loans that small businesses and sole traders hold will move in line with the increase today.
“Consider the electrician who is trying to manage surging fuel prices and the costs of supply chain disruption at work, whilst also being hit by spiralling utility bills and, now, higher mortgage repayments at home.
“Microbusinesses are especially hard-hit by the cost of doing business crisis. Energy costs are particularly difficult to manage, as they are not eligible for the relief offered to consumers, and don’t benefit from the leverage that big businesses can bring to bear. As these new figures show, their fight to bounce back from Covid is that much greater than for a lot of big corporates.
“Those with coronavirus business interruption loans will be feeling particularly apprehensive after today’s increase, which is why we’re urging government to extend Pay As You Grow options to CBILS customers to ease at least one of the mounting pressures they face.
“We’re also encouraging policymakers to look again at our debt for employee equity proposals, giving the minority who are really struggling to repay bounce-backs the option to convert to an employee ownership trust model – protecting livelihoods, improving productivity and protecting taxpayer funds in the process.
“This is a moment for the banks to step up: helping their small business and sole trader customers to manage the effects of rising rates responsibly. Widespread collapse is not good for anyone long-term.”
Alpesh Paleja, CBI lead economist, said: “Another rise in interest rates is warranted, given the persistence of high inflation. However, the Monetary Policy Committee are walking an increasingly fine line. Further action to curb price pressures needs to be weighed against the increasing need to protect growth, particularly in light of a historic cost-of-living crunch. Households are feeling it and so are businesses, with cost pressures across the board.
“While monetary policy is the appropriate first line of defence in tackling inflation, government needs to take further action to shore up the broader resilience of the UK economy. In the near-term, higher inflation will hit poorer households hardest, so support measures for this group will need to be kept under review. Over the longer-term, securing greener energy supply and a relentless focus on raising potential growth will bolster our ability to withstand shocks and further price pressures.”
Kitty Ussher, chief economist of the Institute of Directors, said: “We welcome the Bank of England’s judgement that the need to tackle high expectations of inflation is of greater concern than the risk of curbing demand too fast in the short-term.
“Our own surveys show that only a third of our members currently expect inflation will come back to the Bank’s 2% target before 2024 and much of the current uncertainty business leaders are feeling comes from having to operate in an environment where prices are unstable.
“The Bank, however, has today said it expects inflation to be near the 2% target two years from now, which will be welcome to business leaders.
“The Bank has also signalled that further interest rate rises are on the cards, to around 2.5% this time next year. If, however, cost of living pressures cause households to rein back on discretionary spending, or further difficulties in our export markets cause British companies to suffer lower orders, this assumption may need to be revised.”