SMEs still split on Brexit
  • 25th May 2016

As the EU referendum on 23 June approaches, Britain’s SMEs are still largely split on voting ‘in’ or ‘out’. Recent polls suggest 2 in 5 small business owners support a Brexit, but also that many worry leaving could have a negative effect on their workforce.

A recent study into attitudes towards the referendum among SME decision-makers suggests that almost half are in favour of remaining in the EU. The survey of more than 1,000 SMEs, conducted by Zurich, found that 49% of respondents would choose to remain in the EU and that 11% are unsure which way to vote.

Biggest concerns for small businesses

The survey highlighted current problems facing UK businesses, which could be increased by leaving the EU. 73% of businesses that responded stated they felt there was currently a problem with skills shortages in the UK.

With 35% of SMEs believing the UK would not have enough skilled workers within five years of a Brexit, the survey suggests many businesses rely on EU workers. In fact, 92% of businesses agreed that the UK needed to do more to develop home-grown talent.

Regional divides

Zurich’s research also showed how sentiments towards the EU referendum differ greatly across the country. The majority of respondents based in London and Scotland were pro-EU, with 61% backing the In campaign. Whereas 56% of those in the East of England intend to vote to leave.

Attitudes according to sectors

One of the surprising results of the survey was the attitude of businesses in the construction and manufacturing sectors. Both these industries are considered to rely on strong trade links with the EU, suggesting they would overwhelmingly back the In campaign. However, 51% of respondents from these sectors are not concerned about the impact on their import/export trade.

On the whole, the survey shows that opinions towards the referendum among the small business community remain mixed. And that, regardless of the outcome, issues such as skills shortages remain a barrier to growth.