The EU: Do small businesses want to stay or go?

The EU: Do small businesses want to stay or go?

Posted: Wed 18th Nov 2015

The debate is raging about whether the UK should remain part of the European Union. But what do business owners think? We asked some and this is what they said.

"The role of an entrepreneur is to manage the future and navigate uncertainty. The current situation in Europe is nothing but uncertain and many small business owners will want closure soon so they can plan effectively. That's particularly true for those that export their services, products and skills. For example, a number of our clients have expressed concern that a break from the EU would undermine the network of SMEs and contractors that work in industries such as IT, science and engineering. They will simply be excluded from bidding for the lucrative contracts they enjoy today.

"For small service businesses, such as rising independent software houses, the EU represents a large, accessible and straightforward market in which to do business: contrast this with the complexities of trading with Asia. With so much investment in fintech, the desire to create the Britain's equivalent to Google, and the new innovation policies introduced this week, it's vital new entrants and SMEs that want to scale up have as many opportunities as possible to thrive. Remaining in Europe maintains this chance to succeed."
James Poyser, co-founder, inniAccounts

"Keeping Britain inside a reformed European union is extremely important for small businesses as the EU is vital for business development. Without it, many international businesses like Weroom would struggle to offer the same unified service in both the UK and other European countries like France, where Weroom was founded, since EU laws would not apply. With Weroom's users often moving to and from the UK to flatshare, our business would struggle to give consumers the same experience and offer services like our online booking platform which allows people to put down a deposit on a property before they have even visited the room in person."
Thomas Villeneuve, CEO, Weroom

"I passionately believe that the UK should stay in the EU. We import our product from Europe which is actually made incredibly easy because of the EU. The admin is minimal, which makes life so much easier when you're running a small business as lack of time is always an issue. It would be a shame to close our borders to this and the free movement of labour."
Erika Nilsson-Humphrey, founder, Dappad

"A recent poll of SMEs revealed that by two to one, small businesses believe the EU is hindering their businesses rather than helping. It is stats like this which could prove crucial in the forthcoming referendum. Of course those firms that do business on the continent want to continue to trade in the EU, but that does not mean we must sacrifice control of key political and economic issues to Brussels to do so. Post Brexit all the incentives will be stacked in favour of continued friendly economic and trade relations. This is the relationship SMEs want, and this is what the referendum will deliver."
John Mills, chairman, JML and Vote Leave

"Companies are in cloud cuckoo land if they believe that by leaving the EU somehow they will be free from 'red tape'. Of course they will still need to comply with EU regulations if they wish to trade with the European countries, only as non-member we will have no say in how these regulations are set. Further, if people think that 'hey presto' we'll leave the EU and immediately start doing more lucrative trade with the likes of China, India and other emerging countries - not exactly renowned for lack of red tape, fair tarifs and prompt payment - they are even more deluded. We are a service-led economy (78% according to 2014 ONS figures) and it is far more practical to extend services to Europe "‹where our fee structures and business cultures are at least somewhat comparable. My company offers services largely in Germany and the UK and my business partner is based in Spain. I don't even want to contemplate what a Brexit might mean for our business."
Sarah Lafferty, director and co-founder, Round Earth Consulting

"It will make very little difference to our business if we leave the EU. Customers will still buy products from us if they want it. If your product is good customers will buy it. We actually sell more products to countries outside Europe. The only difference is that you have to complete one extra form.  To trade within Europe you just send goods with an invoice.  I would be happy to stay in Europe if it cost less. I know a lot of money is wasted. As a small business I can't afford to waste money like the EU does.  Why don't we try halving our yearly payment and see if we notice any difference to the quality of service being a member?  We have invested in translating our webpages into French, German and Spanish over the last year and we are also learning French.  We do value these markets and customers."
Neil Westwood, managing director, Magic Whiteboard

"I'm firmly behind the UK staying a full member of the EU. The only way companies can improve efficiency is by enhancing working practices either through the adoption of new technologies, or by hiring the most skilful, adept staff or both. However, to stay productive and compete on a global scale, businesses can't rely on home grown talent alone so have to look beyond the UK's borders to achieve optimal business practices. Any withdrawal from the EU would impact negatively on the current flexible labour laws and our ability to trade freely across national borders."
John Newton, Found, chairman and CTO, Alfresco

"It is too easy to reduce the debate over EU membership into an emotive, narrow-minded, argument about immigration rather than considering the wider issues at stake. The UK continues to suffer a significant absence of manual and technical skills, particularly in the traditional utility and construction sectors. It is hard to imagine this situation being resolved domestically by any UK government within the next generation. Skills are required and, as a result of historic neglect, now need to be imported. So, it is still harder to imagine how this problem can be resolved if the UK leaves the EU and sets off on in an isolationist direction. The free flow of capital and labour into and out of the UK is vital to the long-term security of our basic infrastructure and, therefore, to the health of business in general."
Chris Wood, CEO, DTL

"Although I am a proud British business owner and truly believe our nation has great trade to offer the world, especially from small, independent businesses, it is obvious that we have influential 'clout' behind us as a member of the EU that enables us to take our trade to the rest of the world on more effective terms than should we attempt to negotiate on our own.

"Sure there are many things about the EU that aren't perfect but the current system is relatively stable whilst the uncertainty around our future membership makes it very restrictive to us as a growing start up as we cannot make effective investment and growth decision until we know what the future will hold.

"On a separate note as a food business all of the legislation surrounding food safety is from the EU and if we were to leave this would cause serious disruption to our business both financially and structurally; potentially affecting our future growth. The EU food safety regulations in particular are the best in the world and allow us to ship our teas to our US customers but do not allow many of our American competitors to ship internationally to the UK as their food safety standards do not meet the EU regulations. This gives us a serious advantage in our industry and allows us to shout about how safe (and tasty!) our teas are." 
Krisi Smith, co-founder, Bluebird Tea Co

"Britain should remain a member of the EU. It has created a huge market, with a population of around half a billion and no cross border barriers for trade. British entrepreneurs, such as myself, find this vast market an exciting opportunity for growth. UK start-ups, innovative companies and their partner universities are able to access the many types of support, including financial, that the EU is providing. This accelerates their growth and success at a global level, while protecting them against any undesirable, anti-competitive practices of some international giants. Britain's departure from the EU would be devastating for UK businesses."
Askar Sheibani, CEO, Comtek

"Being part of Europe gives UK business access to a fantastic talent pool at an affordable price and the free movement of labour really works for many UK small businesses. Some SMEs retain the identity of their local area, and migration can challenge that, but such businesses are not really materially affected. Many small businesses are only 'small' because they are starting out; they want to reach new markets, grow and become bigger businesses. Anything that puts the brakes on growth cannot be a good thing, so trade barriers should be kept down, especially in tech."
Martin Campbell, managing director, Ormsby Street

What do you think about Britain's future in the European Union? Add your thoughts by commenting below.

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