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South West businesses 'less optimistic' about Brexit than rest of UK

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Written by: Hannah Baker | Posted 09 August 2018 14:57

South West businesses 'less optimistic' about Brexit than rest of UK

Businesses in Bristol and the wider South West are less optimistic about Brexit than other regions of the UK, new research has found.

Only a fifth (21 per cent) of South West SMEs think Brexit will be positive for business, compared to 33 per cent of companies nationally.

And only 19 per cent of companies say they have felt a positive impact from Brexit so far, according to OCO Global’s SME Brexit survey.

Europe is still the most popular choice for expansion among businesses in the region, followed by Asia and the US.

Nationally, businesses that are already exporting or have overseas operations are the most positive about Brexit, with 43 per cent saying they expect any positive impact to continue once the UK leaves the union in March 2019.

“There continues to be a lot of political noise and distractions on Brexit, but it is clear that SMEs are doing their best to get on with things and seeking new opportunities for growth and targeting exports as a key part of this,” said Gareth Hagan, director at OCO Global.

Read more: Bristol one of the 'best cities' to run a business, says BBC Apprentice winner Mark Wright

“Those SMEs who already export, have got on the front foot and taken advantage of the opportunities offered to them through Brexit with new and existing customers.

“Many firms are setting the example for UK SMEs to increase exports, building the case for more businesses to think about how they can seek growth by accessing international markets."

The single market is still the most important factor for Britain’s SMEs, despite Britain departing the EU in fewer than eight months.

Hagan added: “The Government is clearly planning to secure deals around the world and for UK Plc to export to new international markets.

“However Europe is, and will continue to be, the most significant market for SMEs by a long way and so a deal with the EU, that is good for both exporters and importers and goods and services, is of the utmost importance.”

The challenge, he explains, is encouraging SMEs to seek opportunities further afield.

Read more: Cash flow problems holding back Bristol's SMEs

Consideration of markets outside the EU remains very low and is likely to decline further post-Brexit.

Hagan added: We observe something of a ‘fear factor’ among existing and aspiring exporters in many international markets.

“Alongside the oft-stated intent to strike free trade agreements, and transform trading volumes outside EU, the Government and industry have an important role to play in developing appropriate channels and support mechanisms that encourage SMEs to consider markets that they may have ignored in the past.

“It is important that the voice of SMEs is listened to. They are the backbone of our country and to help them grow internationally they require tangible support and practical solutions.”

Bristol City Region Brexit Assembly

The Bristol Post is launching the Bristol City Region Brexit Assembly – a 12-month-long series of events and debates around Brexit, and is encouraging businesses in the city to get involved.

The events, which will be apolitical, will bring together heads of industry from the Bristol region in sectors including finance, law, manufacturing and tech, to discuss the key challenges for the city and how businesses can continue to thrive after leaving the EU.

Bristol Post business editor Hannah Baker said: “This is an exciting opportunity for Bristol’s business community to come together and be involved in discussions on how the city will be shaped after Brexit.

“We will be sharing ideas on how to address the challenges facing business, such as skills and talent, while also looking at any opportunities that might arise.

“It’s an uncertain time for business, but now is also the time to be making decisions.

“Bristol is a thriving hub of enterprise and Brexit is not going to change that – but this is a chance for the voice of Bristol’s businesses to be heard.”

The Bristol City Region Brexit Assembly, which is being sponsored by PwC, the University of Bristol, Bristol BID and Business West, will hold its first event in Bristol city centre in September.

To get involved or for information about becoming a partner, contact robert.rodgerson@reach plc.com

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