EU referendum exacerbates regional divisions, study finds
A new study of 1,000 British SMEs by Tungsten Corporation has revealed sharp regional divisions among business leaders over the upcoming EU referendum, with Scottish small and medium-sized enterprises more concerned than those in other regions about the possible implications of UK withdrawal.
Following last year’s Scottish independence referendum, 64 per cent of SME’s in Scotland say they are “concerned” about political and economic instability around the EU vote, which includes 27 per cent indicating they are “very concerned”.
This contrasts sharply with the UK national average of 49 per cent. In the South West only 45 per cent had concerns, while in the East of England just 42 per cent of SMEs were worried about disruption.
Richard Hurwitz, CEO at Tungsten, said: “It’s noteworthy that there are such regional divides in opinion about the UK’s future in the European Union. SMEs clearly want to be included in the ongoing discussion about EU membership. They are an important constituent whose interests’ the government should consider. This is a decision that will affect us all and it’s imperative that SMEs have the necessary information to make a well informed and considered choice.”
Scottish SMEs are also most likely to want to stay in the EU, with 47 per cent preparing to vote for continued UK membership and just 30 per cent to withdraw. London SMEs are also predominantly pro-EU, with 43 per cent in favour and 32 per cent against.
Of the Scottish SME leaders supporting continued EU membership, 68 per cent say that their main reason is the possible negative impact of withdrawal on the UK economy, while 26 per cent say that they are concerned about international trade becoming more difficult.
Hurwitz continued: “Tungsten’s technology helps British businesses pay and get paid across borders, so we understand why Scottish SMEs are concerned about the possibility of increased delays, uncertainty and costs if the UK leaves the EU. Compliance with separate legal systems will undoubtedly impact invoicing for UK firms, but whatever the outcome, we are already working across borders so we know how to help cash flow more freely.”
Many regional English SMEs take a different view from London and Scotland. 47 per cent of East Midlands SMEs and 43 per cent of North East SME leaders told Tungsten that they intend to vote to leave the EU. Their reasons include:
- hopes for an overall positive impact on the UK economy (36 per cent),
- withdrawal having no impact at all on their business (31 per cent),
- and a potentially reduced administrative burden (25 per cent).
Perhaps most unexpectedly, more than half of the SMEs surveyed (51 per cent) believe that EU membership has no impact at all on their business.
Hurwitz concluded: “Whether you agree with UK membership in the EU or not, it’s surprising that so many SME leaders view the EU as irrelevant. Even if you don’t trade directly with customers on the continent, the benefits and drawbacks of UK membership profoundly affect us all. We welcome an honest, informative, evidence-based debate in the period leading up to the referendum.”