Poll shows small firms ‘want to stay part of UK’

MORE than two-thirds of Scotland’s small business owners are opposed to independence, according to a new survey that provides a rare insight into the mind-set of the country’s dominant SME sector.

As part of a broader poll to determine the most pressing issues facing smaller enterprises in 2013, Business Network International (BNI) asked its Scottish members whether independence would be better for business. Of those, 70 per cent said they would prefer to remain part of the UK.

BNI claims to be the world’s biggest networking organisation with representation in more than 42 countries, including 49 chapters with an estimated 900 members across Scotland.

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Charlie Robertson, executive director for the west of Scotland, said many members were not yet convinced that independence would bring economic advantages and there were unanswered questions on banking, currency and interest rates.

“These are questions that are very, very important, because small businesses rely heavily upon bank finance,” Robertson said.

“There are also concerns about tax law. We have got enough red tape to deal with without going through a whole series of changes that come about because of a change in how the country is run.”

Uncertainty surrounding independence has been a key point for the CBI, which has not taken a formal stance on the matter but has issued a lengthy list of questions that “need to be fully answered on the basis of sound evidence”.

In December, Ipsos MORI released the findings from a poll of 250 “senior” Scottish business leaders which found that 72 per cent thought independence would have a negative effect. Just 13 per cent expected economic benefits in the event of a “Yes” vote.

However, there have been few such surveys of small and medium-sized businesses, which account for 99 per cent of all firms in Scotland and employ more than half of all workers in the private sector.

UK-wide results from today’s BNI survey found a similar level of loyalty to Britain’s place in the EU, with nearly 63 per cent saying that continuing membership would be better for business. Scotland’s 677 respondents made up more than 40 per cent of all those surveyed.

Charlie Lawson, national director of BNI, said the poll clearly illustrated the value small businesses place upon Britain’s EU membership. “We believe the referendum will further corroborate this,” he added.

“The feedback we’ve had is that SMEs regard the EU as an extension of their local trading ground, they enjoy the ease of travel and trade as well as closely aligned business practices. It would be a mistake to raise doubts over ever-
increasing business ties with our closest neighbours.”

Further findings from the survey, conducted in late January, reveal that only 38 per cent of SMEs are confident that their bank will be able to meet their borrowing requirements in the coming year. Confidence in the ability of government to support SMEs scored just 4.8 out of 10.

However, 60 per cent of smaller firms plan to invest more in their business in 2013, with marketing and recruitment tipped as the biggest recipients of additional spending.

Despite wider economic difficulties, more than three-quarters of those surveyed said they have positive expectations for business in the coming year.