Two out of five SMEs back Brexit

London, March 21, 2016

  • 39% of British SMEs surveyed would vote to leave the European Union
  • 73% of SME decision makers think skills shortages are a problem for British business
  • 92% agree that the UK needs to work harder to develop its own skilled workers

Results from Zurich’s latest SME Risk Index show that almost two out of five (39%) of the British SMEs surveyed would vote leave in the upcoming EU referendum. The survey of over 1,000 SME decision makers has shown that British businesses are still torn, with almost half (49%) of those surveyed saying they would vote to remain in the EU.

Economic growth seems to be a key concern among British SMEs, with more than two in five (42%) of those surveyed stating that leaving the EU would have a negative effect on the UK economy over the next five years. Only one fifth (19%) of the decision makers believe that there would be a positive effect on the UK’s economy.

The skills shortage also appears to be high on the agenda, as almost three quarters (73%) of respondents indicated that skills shortages are already a problem for businesses throughout the country. In the event of an Out vote, more than a third (35%) of SMEs believe the UK would not have enough skilled workers in 5 years’ time. The business decision makers agreed almost unanimously that the UK needs to work harder to develop its own skilled workers (92%).

The survey showed that pro-EU sentiment was highest among business respondents working in London and Scotland. The regions are home to the highest proportion of business decision makers in the survey who have stated they will vote to stay in the EU, with over three fifths (61%) of businesses backing the In campaign (of those surveyed in London and Scotland). Those surveyed in the North West of England were also positive on remaining in the EU, with 58% backing the In campaign.

Sentiment throughout the rest the UK was in stark contrast. More than half of businesses surveyed in East of England have stated that they would vote to leave the EU in a referendum (56%) and half of businesses in Yorkshire and the Humber stated they would do the same (49%). Of the 11 regions surveyed, just two regions had more respondents indicating that they would vote to leave the EU than stay.

Further results show a decision to leave the EU may have less of an effect on certain business sectors than has been predicted. More than half of respondents in the construction (51%) and manufacturing (51%) sectors, both widely considered to be reliant on trade links with the EU, indicated that they would not be that concerned about the impact on import/export trade.

Anne Griffiths, Head of SME Propositions at Zurich, comments, "Whether most concerned about economic growth or the amplification of a skills shortage, the noise surrounding the EU Referendum is clearly creating a lot of uncertainty about the risks to small and medium businesses. In the event of leaving or staying in the EU, these companies are the heartbeat of the British economy and it is essential they have the tools to enable and support growth."

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