Half of SMEs 'want soft Brexit'

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Half of all small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) want continued access to the single market after Brexit, a new survey has revealed.

According to research by CitySprint, 50 per cent would be happy for the government to negotiate a so-called soft Brexit, to ensure continued access to the single market after the UK leaves the international bloc, SmallBusiness.co.uk reports.

Only 35 per cent expressed support for the alternative of surrendering access to the single market, while the remaining 15 per cent were not sure which option they believed was best.

The survey also revealed that SME owners do not feel the government is doing enough to keep them informed about the triggering of Article 50, which would set in motion the process of leaving the EU.

Some 79 per cent said they had been given little or no information about it and felt the prime minister must be more open about the government's negotiating strategy with the EU.

This could partly explain why only 28 per cent of SME owners are confident that ministers will be able to protect them even if the option of a soft Brexit is pursued.

Confidence was found to be particularly low in Scotland, where voters were largely in favour of remaining in the EU.

The government is therefore under pressure to take steps to assist SMEs throughout this period of uncertainty.

For instance, 49 per cent said their tax burden should be reduced, while 36 per cent backed the idea of creating a fund to support small businesses.

Patrick Gallagher, chief executive of CitySprint, commented: "Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy and have worked hard over the last decade to adapt and weather its economic ups and downs.

"Undoubtedly they will rise to whatever challenges lie ahead, but our survey shows that SME leaders are crying out for more support, information and reassurance from the government to help them continue to do what they do best: keeping the country moving."

Fortunately for SMEs across the UK, the referendum result does not seem to have had any adverse effects on them just yet.

Some 82 per cent of respondents said the current state of their business is either the same or better than it was a year ago.

Similarly, 75 per cent said they were just as confident about the prospects for their business as they had been this time last year.

Mr Gallagher described this as "reassuring", but insisted they must use their concerns about Brexit as an "incentive to work with other companies of a similar size to provide mutual support".

He said that only one in eight SMEs intend to be more collaborative with other firms in the next year, which means a "huge number" might miss out on an important way to safeguard their business over the next year or so.