SMEs hope for EU Free Trade arrangement following Brexit

Small to medium sized manufacturers have underlined their hopes for a Free Trade arrangement with the EU following Brexit, according to the latest National Manufacturing Barometer.

Free trade

The quarterly survey asked SMEs to share their concerns about Brexit. Maintaining a Free Trade arrangement with the European Union was cited as a key priority by around half of respondents, as well as the need for the government to move more quickly through the negotiation process.

Conducted by SWMAS, which is part of the Exelin Group, in partnership with Economic Growth Solutions (EGS), the survey also asked about the impact of the Brexit process on business to date.

Of the 332 industry leaders who responded to the survey, 41 per cent said it had already had a negative impact, whilst 47 per cent anticipate that business conditions will get tougher once the UK leaves the EU. Half of businesses surveyed said they felt that government had not taken their business needs into consideration in ‘Brexit’ talks to date.

Simon Howes, CEO of Exelin Group said: “SME manufacturers are sending a clear message to government. The vast majority want to see free trade with the EU maintained to help minimise the cost of imports and keep red tape to a minimum.

“Some manufacturers are already seeing the cost of materials rise due to recent falls in the value of Sterling against the Euro and uncertainty over the future of the UK’s trade arrangements with the EU.

“Another clear concern for SME manufacturers is for the government to clarify its Brexit plan as soon as possible to avoid any further slips in business confidence.

“Manufacturers need a firm ground to trade from and, at present, many feel they are standing on ‘shifting sands’. SME manufacturers make up over 95 per cent of industry and their voice needs to be heard.”

Free trade

Another focus for the Barometer was business performance over the last six months to June 2017. Over half (57 per cent) of respondents said turnover had increased during this period, compared to 61 per cent reporting increased sales in the previous quarter. Although this represents a slight decrease, it is a 14 per cent increase compared to the same time last year.

Investment in capital machinery and staff recruitment were also both slightly down on the previous quarter at 41 per cent and 38 per cent respectively.

This quarter’s survey also asked respondents to report on profits over the last six months. The survey found that over 39 per cent of businesses reported an increase in profits over this period, compared to 31 per cent experiencing a decrease.

Lorraine Holmes, CEO of Economic Growth Solutions and the Manufacturing Growth Programme (MGP), concluded: “There is a lot of uncertainty and that is never good for purchasing/investment decisions and this is reflected in a slight drop in sales and growth.

“The figures are still a lot higher than they were this time last year and the feedback we are getting from the firms we help on the ground is fairly positive. There’s lots of plans for expansion, investing in apprentices, innovation and export. However, we need a much clearer idea of how Brexit is going to play out.”

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