EU referendum: Why the smallest firms must make EU politics their business

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I have faith that these bright British businesses have done the research (Source: Getty)

It’s exactly a month to the day to the EU referendum. It’s also the moment Britain’s army of small businesses have been dreading.

For them there’s more than just the most desirable shape of a banana, open borders, the Greek question or Brussels bureaucracy at stake, it’s making a decision about the future of their business that they’ll have to live with.

The businesses we see every day at Enterprise Nation are not the type grimly dubbed "SMEs", which can include anything from a 10 employee business to a 250 worker multi-site operation.

These are the micro businesses, the self-employed, the home businesses and the start-ups, the zero to nine employee brigade. They are the ones who have been largely overlooked by all political argument on this and yet, according to the government’s own figures, make up 95 per cent of Britain’s firms, are responsible for 32 per cent of total employment and 20 per cent of private sector turnover.

Read more: Brexit risks compromising plans to build hundreds of thousands of new homes

For them, making a decision is just another job on the long, long to-do list. And they don’t take it lightly. Considering the dearth in targeted information, they have diligently been researching the question themselves.

Our recent poll, which we conducted ahead of the small business EU Debate I’m chairing tonight at the London headquarters of the Institute of Chartered Accountants England and Wales (ICAEW), suggests 67 per cent of the smallest firms have made the decision to stay in the European Union. And while a tiny minority – four per cent said that decision was a guess - a whopping 79 per cent proudly stated they were very confident with their answer, with only 17 per cent said they needed to hear more.

So what’s behind that decision? Well, 60 per cent said their decision was based on economics and nothing else. This tallies with what we’re hearing about squeezed margins due to the current unfavourable exchange rates we’re experiencing.

While multi-nationals may be able to swallow these, smaller firms rely on cash flow and prompt payment to carry them from one deal to the next. Or indeed, in the early stages, one meal to the next. Any squeeze on profits means another day, another plain omlette, no French fries.

Read more: Remain appears to have gained ground in the polls, but the reality is more muddled

Only 22 per cent said their decision had been swayed by the cultural argument and just three per cent said it was the fear of the unknown.

And these quietly confident arguments come, despite the fact that a fifth (41 per cent) said they hadn’t seen any helpful information aimed at small firms.

There’s a worry about important EU subsidies, but equally there’s nervousness around Brussels bureaucratic dictats that often seem to ignore the reality faced by British exporters. Like the EU VAT regulations that caused a furore in 2015 when they tried to force tiny firms selling digital content to pay VAT in the country of purchase. The software needed to comply would have wiped out any profits for these people.

So while I have heard convincing arguments from both sides, I have faith that these bright British businesses have done the research they need to do, made the decision they need to make and ticked that vital thing off the list.

Tags: Brexit