UK Small Businesses’ Experience of COVID Regulation: Interviews With Business Owners, 2021-2022


These data were generated as part of a 12-month ESRC-funded research project examining the impact of the new and changed regulations arising from the COVID-19 pandemic on the UK small business community. Researchers from Newcastle University and the University of Birmingham, in collaboration with the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), conducted a survey and follow-up interviews with small businesses across all regions of the UK to understand their experience of understanding and responding to regulations during the pandemic. The transcripts archived here comprise interviews with small business owners (n=23).Regulations introduced due to the governmental response to COVID-19 force business leaders to take decisions with far-reaching consequences for employees' livelihoods, public and employee health, and the viability and survival of their businesses. Crucially, what underpins such decisions are complex judgements based on their understanding of the regulatory context and their capacity to discriminate between swathes of legal obligation and guidance of different kinds. This presents a particularly significant challenge to small businesses (0-49 employees) due to their constrained resources. The current pandemic represents the immediate context for this research, which will undertake a large-scale survey with follow-up interviews to understand how small businesses receive, understand and act on the UK's regulatory response to the pandemic and the financial, legal, and emotional costs of complying with this regulatory challenge. The UK regulatory context is further complicated by actions being taken at the level of devolved nations and regionalised variation of regulatory impact at different times. The research, in partnership with the FSB (Federation of Small Businesses), will provide evidence and insights to inform governmental regulatory responses to future public health crises and to regulation in a post-COVID landscape. It will arm those who formulate regulation and related guidance relevant to small businesses with greater clarity about the means by which businesses receive and interpret guidance, and whether and how they act on it. Regulation informed in this way has the potential to deliver a positive impact on employees' livelihoods, public and employee health, and the survival of UK small businesses.

The research design of the project needed to take into account the ‘general’ nature of small businesses in terms of their likely constrained resources to monitor and comply with regulations, while accounting for the heterogeneity of the UK small business population in terms of sector, size, age, regulatory environment and geography. 84% of survey respondents and 19 of the 23 interview respondents were micro businesses (up to ten employees). Regulations affected all small businesses regardless of size, sector, or market, but regulatory compliance for those businesses which come into close contact with the public was more complex. During the pandemic, the complexity of the UK’s regulatory landscape was laid bare, with the Devolved Administrations each utilising their specific powers to vary the regulatory response to COVID-19 in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland from that in England. It was therefore necessary to capture a representative picture of the impact and implications across as wide and representative a sample of this diverse population as possible. Hence, we conducted a large-scale online survey of small businesses across the UK, with follow up semi-structured interviews with individual businesses to provide added depth and explanation to the patterns revealed by the survey. The survey was open between 3 and 18 August 2021 and administered by the research agency Verve on behalf of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB). This timing was significant, as it enabled us to capture data from small businesses who had experienced more than 12 months of adapting their strategy and operations as a result of understanding and responding to regulation, new and pre-existing, under pandemic conditions. The final sample comprised 991 responses with the vast majority of those respondents being FSB members. This research has sought to focus on eliciting information about the impacts that particular regulations, or regulatory changes, had on small businesses. Rather than asking about broad regulatory categories, the survey sought to provide a novel and valuable level of granular detail by focusing as far as possible on specific regulations which were new or amended to deal with the pandemic, as well as pre-existing regulations that may have taken on more significance during a pandemic. The survey provided a sampling frame from which to identify businesses for the semi-structured interviews, which enabled us to understand more about the experiences and reasoning which led businesses to take actions in response to regulations and guidance. The sample of businesses interviewed has achieved a good spread in terms of business size, location, sector, and regulatory experience. Interview participants were recruited through the survey, which asked respondents if they would be prepared to have their individual survey responses identified by the Newcastle University research team, as well as to be contacted for a 45–60-minute interview. Of the 991 valid responses to the survey, there were around 350 small business owners who indicated that they were happy to be contacted for interview, of which 23 were finally interviewed between December 2021 and January 2022. All interviews were conducted using Zoom, with an average duration of one hour. All interviews were recorded and fully transcribed. The full interview protocol is attached to this data submission, as are the project information sheet and the interviewee consent form. For anonymisation purposes, we gave interviewees participant codes (P1 to P23) in lieu of pseudonyms.

Metadata Access
Creator Richter, P, Newcastle University
Publisher UK Data Service
Publication Year 2022
Funding Reference ESRC
Rights Paul Richter, Newcastle University; The Data Collection is available for download to users registered with the UK Data Service.
OpenAccess true
Language English
Resource Type Text
Discipline Economics; Social and Behavioural Sciences
Spatial Coverage UK; United Kingdom