Major overseas expansion planned by UK firms

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Businesses are intent on expanding overseas

New research has highlighted the considerable proportion of UK small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that hope to expand their product offering to overseas markets in the years ahead.

According to a new report from business e-lender Everline and the Centre for Economic and Business Research (Cebr), 17 per cent of UK small businesses - the equivalent of 880,000 firms - are planning to expand overseas within the next ten years.

This represents a significant increase from the 10.8 per cent of UK SMEs that presently export goods and services overseas and marks a considerable positive shift in both ambition and attitudes for many of the country's small business leaders.

Other standout features of the Everline/Cebr report included the fact that 39 per cent of small companies envision they will be not only sending and receiving goods to international partners by 2025, but they will also have expanded their brand to operate in other countries as well.

Indeed, more than one-third of respondents to the study stated an ambition to have cross-border enterprises by the middle of the next decade.

Cebr economist Sam Alderson commented: "The government has rightly highlighted the need to boost the UK's level of exports. However, their target to increase annual exports to £1 trillion by 2020 looks likely to be missed by quite some way.

"While the increase in the number of small businesses looking to expand overseas is encouraging, the share remains relatively low. Given that tapping into the export potential of the UK's small business community could provide a major boost to exports, encouraging small firms to look for opportunities overseas should remain a key priority in coming years."

The data compiled as part of the report revealed the industries that are most likely to see a boom in overseas exports and growth in the years ahead, with IT and telecoms providers the most keen on this form of expansion (29 per cent).

Rounding out the top three sectors were manufacturing (26 per cent) and media, marketing and PR (23 per cent).

Across the UK, a number of regional differences in expansion plans were witnessed, with London firms leading the way (30 per cent), in comparison to 17 per cent of Midlands SMEs, 13 per cent in the south of England (excluding London) and 11 per cent in the north.

Responding to the report's findings, Russell Gould, chief operations officer at Everline concluded: "Although the number of small businesses planning on expansion overseas is hugely positive, more could be done to encourage small businesses in this area, particularly outside of London."