East Midlands firms boost online protection but lack appetite for essential digital skills

Businesses in the East Midlands have stepped up their protection against cyber threats in 2019, but a lack of interest in other digital tactics could be holding them back, according to Lloyds Bank’s latest Business Digital Index (BDI).

The annual report, the largest of its kind into digital skills, polled 1,500 small businesses across the UK, with more than 140 from the East Midlands. The report combines survey data with businesses’ transactional data to understand their digital behaviours and intentions.

The security index for the region, which outlines whether firms are protecting themselves against hackers and fraudsters, has shot up by 19 points on last year to 56. An index reading of zero indicates a lack of online cybersecurity capabilities while a reading of 100 shows robust defensive measures are in place.

Nearly three quarters (74 per cent) of the region’s businesses have already invested in their cyber security skills, or are planning to in future, compared with 78 per cent nationally.

While the region has made advances in cyber security, a lack of Essential Digital Skills could be hampering opportunities to boost sales or productivity. Nearly two in five East Midlands’ firms (39 per cent) lack the full range of Essential Digital Skills, compared with the national average of 44 per cent.

Businesses in the East Midlands had the appetite to build their digital strategy and leadership skills, with nearly half (47 per cent) either having done so or planning to do so in future. This compared with 44 per cent nationally.

The region was also above the UK average for attaining skills, or having plans to build them, in search engine optimisation (SEO) (60 per cent, nine points above UK average), social media and marketing (59 per cent, four points above UK average), and customer data analytics (42 per cent, one point above UK average).

Jo Harris, Lloyds Banking Group’s Ambassador for the East Midlands, said: “Online attacks affect half of all UK businesses and although firms in the East Midlands are slightly behind the national average in terms of their cyber security skills, it’s really encouraging to see the region is taking steps to protect itself.

“However, further investment in digital skills needs to be a priority to ensure businesses are not missing out on huge opportunities.

“Our research found that an average small business in the UK with strong digital skills and behaviours earned around £260,000 more a year. This is money that could be spent on hiring more staff, training employees and growing the business.

“The digital sector in the East Midlands is now worth around £750million and employs almost 7,000 people** so it’s clear that skills like SEO, social media and data analytics will become even more important for companies in the future.”

Nationally, a third (33 per cent) of firms said they had increased turnover and efficiency as a result of becoming more tech-savvy.

The report also found a national trend that small businesses that are less than three years old had better digital skills, with more than two thirds (69 per cent) of this group having all six Essential Digital Skills. UK businesses without these were also almost two and a half times more likely to be closing down in the next two years compared with those more skilled.