Small Business Message To May: Get On With It!!
We hear a lot of talk about business and the business community, especially from the Prime Minister when she is a particularly tendentious mood espousing the virtues of the ‘transitional’ or ‘implementation’ period. Papers talk a lot about business and the business community although this tends to be when they want to promote their Remoaning. It is also a certain kind of business and business community, a section of the multinational, corporatist side of the business community.
However, we tend to hear less about small/medium sized businesses and this is a glaring omission because they are a vital part of the economy. Did you know, for example, that SME’s employ 60% of the workers that comprise the private sector workforce or that the combined annual turnover of SMEs was £1.9 trillion, 51% of all private sector turnover in the UK? I didn’t, until yesterday that is. A clearer picture is needed of the impact of Brexit on these companies because the challenges they face are radically different to those faced by multinational corporations and as I have just illustrated they are vital cogs in Britains economic machine.
This is why the Europe Of Freedom And Direct Democracy group (EFDD), UKIP’s grouping in the European Parliament, undertook an extensive survey of SMEs in the West Midlands. A scoring system which was a sliding scale of +5 to -5 with, obviously, plus representing positive sentiment and minus negative. Over 900 were contacted, new start-ups to one over 178 years old. Asked how they voted in the referendum those SME owners surveyed broke slightly towards Remain, at 49% support for Remaining they actually broke slightly more in favour of continued EU membership than the general population. In terms of their economic interaction with the EU, the sample favoured exporters, slightly (45% are exporting to the EU, 36% importing).
When questioned about the material effect of Brexit on business and business planning I thought the answers broke pretty much as expected and did effectively demolish the myths coming from the ongoing Project Fear campaign to undermine business and public confidence in Brexit. For example, scare stories that Brexit is already significantly impacting business are directly contradicted by the findings that 63% had noticed no difference in their current business performance.
In terms of planning and preparation for Brexit, businesses are one step ahead of the government. 52% had evaluated the risks of Brexit which, following the revelation this week that the Brexit ‘Impact Papers’ simply do not exist, is clearly something this government has yet to properly address.
Exporters are looking at other countries and opportunities outside the EU but across the board, there was strong confidence that Brexit would provide a positive opportunity for growth. Respondents were asked to rate various propositions on the effect of Brexit on their businesses using the sliding scale. When asked about the effect of Brexit on their businesses general ability to grow a very encouraging +80 score was recorded, however, unsurprisingly, prospects to sell or carry out projects within the EU were rated a -70. Nonetheless, SME’s clearly see the potential of one door closing and many more opening. The only real concern that found consistent expression was worries about accessing skilled (-32) and unskilled labour (-33).
SMEs are prepared for Brexit. When asked how well prepared they were to deal with the economic and trading changes that will occur as part of the Brexit process this scored a whopping +402 on the sliding scale. Once again, SME’s are better prepared for Brexit than the government clearly is. Despite this optimism, however, the uncertainty caused by the ‘weak and wobbly’ negotiating style of the government is unsurprisingly causing distress and uncertainty. If you’re in business, as Bill Etheridge MEP pointed out presenting the findings, you need to know what is happening so you can plan and right now the government has us stranded in limbo.
Bill stated categorically that “this government does not want to leave the EU” and indeed the events of this week have proved him right. Mrs May is seeking to tie us in, at a substantial cost to Britain, to a ‘transitional period’, which will be counterproductive for SME’s wanting to plan and worrying about tariffs, not for economic but for purely political reasons. The message from SME’s across the West Midlands and the country to Theresa May that needs to be heard loud and clear, Brexit is the will of the people, dragging your feet is not helping us get on with it!!!