Friday 29 March 2019 12:01 am

Small businesses warn of falling revenues and recruitment freeze as uncertainty continues beyond original Brexit date

The number of small businesses pausing recruitment and reporting falling revenues has reached record levels as Brexit uncertainty continues beyond the UK’s original departure date.

The Federation of Small Businesses’ (FSB) latest survey for the first quarter of the year revealed the extent to which uncertainty has held firms back.

Read more: The financial services sector needs a shot of confidence to mitigate Brexit

More than a third of the 1,100 businesses surveyed reported falling revenues in the first quarter of the year – an all-time high.

Export expectations for the next three months also fell to their lowest point in the FSB small business index’s nine-year history, while 90 per cent of firms paused recruitment.

The FSB called for the government to hand out Brexit vouchers to businesses – similar to Ireland and the Netherlands – for access to advice, equipment and upskilling as trade arrangements change.

It also warned companies would be hit by the “triple whammy” of a new digital tax system, business rates hikes and higher pension contributions next week and demanded urgent Brexit clarity.

FSB chairman Mike Cherry said: “Small firms were told that we would be leaving the European Union today with a good understanding beforehand of what the future would hold.

“Instead we have suffered 1,000 days of uncertainty since the Brexit referendum, leaving us unable to plan, invest and grow.”

Read more: Barclays unveils £14bn fund to help businesses through Brexit uncertainty

He added: “Naturally that’s impacted bottom lines.”

The FSB’s confidence measure stayed negative for the third consecutive quarter and 70 per cent of firms did not expect their performance to improve in the next three months.