Comment Blog 6 December, 2018

Securing the best trading environment for SMEs post Brexit

Faced with the uncertainty of what lies ahead, the clear post-Brexit vision for trade still needs to materialise. Business leaders work all hours, driving growth and creating jobs. They are waiting with bated breath to hear about opportunities for our future trading environment with the European Union and beyond.

That is why 45% of small and medium sized businesses say Brexit is impacting their confidence. One in three are unsure how long they will need to prepare, but most predict they will need an average of 15 months.

Sage, a UK technology company operating in 23 markets around the world, helps businesses adapt to the sweeping changes in compliance legislation - like GDPR across the globe, Making Tax Digital in the UK, Single Touch Payroll in Australia and the anti-fraud law in France. Our experience has shown us a clear, positive vision and time to prepare are crucial for a positive outcome for SMEs.

These will be Sage’s priorities as we champion our customers and help prepare them for future changes. But whatever the Brexit outcome, there are compelling reasons to be laser focused on creating a thriving trading environment:

  • The proven link between exporting and productivity means increased trade will help to tackle local disparities, where SMEs in one local authority are up to 26 times more productive than in another.
  • Trade creates higher paid jobs.  Exports from the UK to outside the EU support 3.75 million jobs which are on average, 12% better paid than non-export related jobs.
  • Uninterrupted access to imported goods and labour are the bread and butter of innovative businesses.   That is why over one in three of our customers in the UK employ EU workers and we are the world’s fourth largest importing nation
  • Innovation is changing trade as we know it, playing to our strengths as a service-based economy with a thriving tech sector.  By 2030 emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and 3D printing will mean global trade grows by a third, drastically reducing trading costs.
  • Overseas investment by UK firms continues to deliver value back to UK stakeholders. Between 2016 and 2018 Sage invested £700m abroad delivering around £200m back to UK shareholders and sustained growth of our UK workforce.

So what are the key steps to harnessing these opportunities?

  • Government must engage early with businesses on priorities for trade talks and work with partners to agree priorities that will deliver growth.
  • Collaboration to address regional disparities in export levels – aligning Local Enterprise Partnerships with Department of International Trade and empowering them with HMRC data on exporting businesses to offer more targeted, sectoral support and signposting to drive up trade.
  • The UK can be at the forefront of championing international standards to secure the growth in digital trade, enable cross border data sharing and protect Intellectual Property. At the WTO forum in December 2017,71 countries signed a joint statement on eCommerce – a positive move and the first of its kind.
  • Reducing the complexity of exporting.  Simplifying trading rules, like complex Rules of Origin could lead to customs systems that are fully integrated into an SME’s accounting, warehousing and production processes.
  • Protecting access to talent, so businesses can expand their operations, making mutual recognition of qualifications and establishing the right to practice in other countries.

So whilst the first priority must be greater certainty about our future relationship with the European Union, we must seize every opportunity to boost trade and deliver the wider benefits to the UK economy.

Adam Prince is Vice President of Product Management and Compliance at Sage.

Reform and Sage recently worked together to explore how to secure the best possible trading environment for SMEs post Brexit.