UK SMEs fail to see value in European exports

New survey shows that UK SMEs have a less positive attitude towards exporting to European markets than larger companies.

By Colin Mackay

08 Mar 2016

A new survey on opinions towards a potential Brexit have shown dividing lines in UK attitudes toward the EU as an export market. The survey, conducted by YouGov on behalf of specialist insurance company QuoteSearcher, took the opinions of decision makers in 700 UK SMEs.

The results showed that the greater the maturity and experience of the respondent, the more likely they were to see Europe in a positive light as an export market. There was also a correlation between company size and attitudes, with larger SMEs more likely to have a positive attitude towards exporting in Europe.

However, Simon Down, Deputy Dean for Research and Enterprise at the Lord Ashcroft International Business School - Anglia Ruskin University, cautioned that attitudinal surveys can be misleading, observing that when push comes to shove, the reality is that, "most companies will go where the money is - however this doesn't mean they don’t have contradictory personal political views."


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Many SMEs - around 30 per cent - cited perceived legal and regulatory issues as barriers to exporting. This was almost twice as many as the next most common response, which was the cost of exporting, particularly tax and administration.

In a number of sectors - notably ICT and media/marketing felt that language was the biggest issue, almost twice that of the manufacturing and construction. The legal, medical and health and property industries did not see language as any barrier.

Down also highlighted an interesting subset from the data. He noted that attitudes differed according to area, with Scottish SME decision-makers more likely to hold a positive view of the EU.

He noted that; "This often comes up in media accounts of Scotland, as having a more positive view of the EU is a significant part of their political orientation."

This confirms the findings of other surveys indicating lower support for Brexit in Scotland than in other parts of the country.

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