Amid the fallout from the UK’s decision to leave the EU, small businesses are voicing both concern and excitement at the opportunity.
Trade bodies have largely reacted with calls for stability, clarity and focus. The British Chambers of Commerce reiterated its call for clear communication from government to calm business fears: “Businesses across Britain want a steady stream of communication from the government and the Bank of England, with stability, clarity and action the watch-words for firms,” said its acting head Dr Adam Marshall.
“So far, the priority for the Chancellor and the Governor has rightly been the question of stability, as markets and firms digest the electorate’s decision.
“However, attention swiftly needs to turn to delivering clarity. While it is prudent for the UK government to delay firing the starting gun on negotiations with the European Union, firms want a clear timetable, and simultaneous action to support the wider economy.
“The big decisions – on airports, energy generation, HS2, housebuilding and more – need to be followed through. The decision to delay a post-referendum budget must not be a convenient excuse for ministers to duck these important choices. Action and momentum over the coming months are vital to stoking the embers of business confidence.”
For smaller businesses themselves, there has been a range of reaction: For one business owner, reliant on skilled workers the focus of concern centred on the impact on the pool of available talent. Bhuwan Kaushik, CEO of IT business Spectromax, said: “The impact of the Brexit will be sizeable and long term. There’s a huge IT skills gap in the UK and it’s going to take a number of years to close it. Leaving the EU at a time when the UK is in need of skills will be a huge blow to UK businesses, let alone the commercial opportunities that may be lost and could consequently stunt UK startup growth.”
Opportunity amid the chaos
However, there have been some voices of optimism. Julia Kermode, CEO of the Freelancer and Contractor Services Association, was broadly supportive of the impact on her members, saying “For FCSA it will be business as usual as we continue to work to raise standards in our sector to support and protect the flexible workforce in the UK that has been vital to the UK’s economic growth in recent years.
“Leaving the EU will undoubtedly bring a period of uncertainty and as we have witnessed in the run up to this referendum demand for contractors has been high and I see this demand increasing particularly if the rules on immigration tighten up.
We have seen significant impact on the stock market already today, and some concern regarding sectors traditionally reliant on the migrant workforce, such as construction. However, it should be borne in mind that exit will not be instant, stability is needed and now more than ever it is important to ensure that firms have the right skills in place. Once again, the flexible workforce will be key in ensuring the UK’s economy doesn’t suffer.”
Government must tread carefully
Meanwhile, Chris Bryce, CEO of the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE), said the IPSE will seek to build on this progress over the next months and years. “After all, independent professionals and the self-employed are now more important to the UK’s prosperity than ever. Although much was achieved, we did not however get everything that we wanted from Mr Cameron’s Government. Worrying plans that threaten contractors working in the public sector are still on the horizon.
“The aftermath of today’s historic result and the PM’s announcement, bring with them an opportunity for the Government to recognise that now is not the time to implement any actions which would prevent the positive contribution of the UK’s independent professionals to our economy. We call on the Government to announce the immediate scrapping of the public sector proposals. This would go a long way towards bolstering confidence among independent professionals whilst ensuring that the public sector is running as smoothly as possible while we transition out of our relationship with Brussels.
While the referendum result will lead to a degree of uncertainty in the coming days, one thing is clear: IPSE is here to represent all the contractors, freelancers, interim managers and self-employed.”
Meanwhile Ian Powell, chairman of accountancy firm PwC tried to calm fears among SMEs that Brexit would spell disaster. He said, “History has taught us that UK business is adaptable and innovative when confronted with new challenges and opportunities. There will be significant uncertainty over the coming months as the detailed political and legal issues are worked out, and business confidence may be impacted.”