Brexit fears loom larger for Scotland's small businesses

Scottish small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) fear the impact of Brexit on their businesses more than firms in the UK as a whole, according to a new report.

More than half of Scottish respondents to a survey cited Brexit as the biggest challenge faced alongside the continuing impact of Covid-19. The 57 per cent of Scottish firms who highlighted Brexit compares to just 30 per cent in the UK as a whole, according to the report by Newable which provides finance and workspace to SMEs

Its latest business index report also reveals that four out of five Scottish SMEs say they have seen productivity improved or unchanged by a shift to home working.

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Less than half of small business owners want to return to working in an office full-time, with the cost of commuting being the biggest factor.

Delays at ports have been a key issue for businesses in the wake of the Brexit trade deal.Delays at ports have been a key issue for businesses in the wake of the Brexit trade deal.
Delays at ports have been a key issue for businesses in the wake of the Brexit trade deal.

However, only 43 per cent of Scottish SMEs believe their companies are prepared for hybrid working, compared to 66 per cent nationally.

Despite the impact of lockdowns, 52 per cent of respondents reported either “positive” or “no impact” on revenues from Covid-19 and the majority of SMEs in Scotland also said they are not delaying investment decisions because of the pandemic, compared to 32 per cent nationally.

However, Scottish SMEs appear worried about the UK’s pandemic recovery with 70 per cent stating they believe the economy will take over 24 months to recover. Across the UK, SMEs seem more optimistic with 65 per cent saying they think it will recover in less than 24 months.

Chris Manson, CEO of Newable, which operates business workspaces across Scotland, said it was reassuring that Scottish SMEs have been working successfully from home during the pandemic.

“However, it is clear they are still cautious about the future as we start the road to recovery after what has been a challenging year for all of UK’s small and medium businesses.”

Manson said it was apparent from the research that SMEs want a “more agile and hybrid working style”.

He said he expects to see central and conventional office portfolios shrink as space is “repurposed for team collaboration”.

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Earlier this year, MSPs were warned that Scottish firms have been “thrown to the wolves” over the post-Brexit trade chaos at cross-channel ports.

Hold-ups over which colour of pen should be used in official forms and where stamps appear in documents, as well as failing IT systems, are among the “dozens of problems” which has devastated the country export sector in recent weeks, industry experts told Holyrood’s Europe committee.

A free trade deal was struck between the UK and EU just before Brexit came into the effect at the start of the year, which initially allayed fears of costly tariffs on exports to the continent for businesses.

But the introduction of complex and lengthy checks at ports like Boulogne and Dunkirk has left many export businesses struggling to cope.

Newable operates Citibase flexible office space facilities in Scotland including sites in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Earlier this year its Newable Ventures investment arm backed a £1.24 million investment round for Scottish research and development firm RAB-Microfluidics.

The funding round, led by Eos Advisory, will help the Aberdeen start-up strengthen its team and further develop its product roadmap.

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