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2.4m SMEs reluctant to adopt AI pose growth threat to next government

2.4 million business leaders could be left behind by the advances in AI, posing a huge economic risk to the UK, recent findings from Be the Business have revealed.
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London, 12 June 2024: 2.4 million business leaders could be left behind by the advances in AI, posing a huge economic risk to the UK, recent findings have revealed.  

Data published today by Be the Business, the UK’s small business productivity experts, found that over half of SMEs say AI is not being used in their business, with just below half saying they have no plans to introduce or expand the use of AI in the next 12 months. 

While 36% of SMEs are using AI on an ad-hoc basis, over half (52%) have yet to start even trying to use it in their business. In addition, 42% say they have no plans to introduce or expand the use of any AI tools. 

While cost and concerns around data security topped the list of perceived barriers to AI adoption amongst small business leaders, 21% stated that AI wasn’t applicable to their business, with 18% of respondents saying there was no barrier preventing them from using AI tools.  

According to Be the Business, this cohort, largely comprised of business leaders over 55 in charge of smaller businesses outside of the Greater London area, poses a huge economic risk and the potential to become a drag on the UK economy.  

Impacts of AI avoidance include a loss of competitiveness and resilience, being unable to attract or retain staff and a decline in productivity. At a time when the UK’s productivity output continues to stagnate and fall away from the comparative economies within the G7, a focus on technology adoption to raise productivity is essential.   

As such, the not-for-profit says the new government must act to ensure the economy's broad-based productivity improvements are not in jeopardy. Recommendations include government-led research initiatives aimed at enabling SMEs, a focus on generating greater demand for AI adoption support and leveraging the UK’s leadership in AI technology. 

Anthony Impey MBE, CEO of Be the Business, said: 

“The potential impact of AI on the productivity of the country’s small businesses is extraordinary. But if we are to embrace the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity posed by this new technology, we must do so wholeheartedly and without hesitation. We must help business leaders overcome the challenges that prevent them from adopting productivity-enhancing tools and ensure that they have the skills to take advantage of them.” 


To read Be the Business’ AI-Powered Productivity: Unlocking SME Productivity with AI, click here



Notes to editor 

About Be the Business 

Be the Business is an independent charity that inspires greater productivity by connecting leadership teams to the curated expertise needed to answer today’s challenges. By combining peer-to-peer networks, the employee expertise found within pioneering corporate partners, independent business experts and our research and insights, we inspire leadership teams to create and deliver sustainable business change. Collectively we’re transforming the UK’s productivity, raising the value of businesses in our communities, safeguarding jobs and improving standards of living. 


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