Read in Catalan

A total of 50 companies have returned their registered head offices to Catalonia after moving away between 2017 and 2018, according to the sixth report on the economic and labour situation of Catalan SMEs (small and medium businesses). The report was presented today by the president of Fepime (Federation of Entrepreneurs of Small and Medium Businesses of Catalonia), Maria Helena de Felipe, and its secretary general, César Sánchez, who said that the figures represent a "change of trend".

The overall balance, however, remains negative. In the first six months of this year, 440 companies moved their registered head offices out of Catalonia, whilst 324 moved into the autonomous community. That leaves a negative balance of 116 companies.

De Felipe emphasised the comparison with the same time period in 2018, when there was a negative balance of 2,072 companies: "The trend has been reversed and this is a message of confidence for the markets. They are encouraging figures and I believe that more companies will make their way back."

The so-called "flight of offices" from Catalonia under pressure from the Spanish treasury after the 2017 referendum primarily benefitted Madrid and Valencia. Catalonia ended up with negative sales balances of 27.8 billion euros in 2017 and 14.9 billion euros in 2018.

Sánchez said that Catalonia has the highest positive sales balance in Spain at 1.05 billion euros (£0.88 billion; $1.16 billion), explained by the return of some of the registered head offices. Among those to have returned, one of the most important is petroleum group GM Fuel, with annual business of more than 700 million euros: "That's shot up sales," he said.

Qualified staff and funding

One of the chief concerns for small and medium businesses is the lack of qualified labour, to which is exacerbated by the difficulties smaller firms have to hold on to talent. "We're lacking training programmes. If we don't have them, SMEs will never be able to be competitive," De Felipe said.

Specifically, with respect to 2014, concern about not finding qualified staff has grown 267% in micro businesses, 343% in small businesses and 335% in those with more than 50 workers. As for access to funding, the employers' association say that awards of new credit to companies fell 6.32% this last year with respect to 2018 for operations of up to €250,000 (£210,000; $280,000), 1% for operations for between 250,000 euros and one million, and that they grew 35.69% for larger operations.

"We don't want subsidies, but we do want economic incentives and tax cuts so we can accept the costs of a cross-border trade strategy and for the launch of our products and services," said De Felipe.