A new Brexit survey of 1,016 SMEs this autumn finds that 13% are experiencing ‘significant Brexit impact’, 39% report ‘some impact’, 48% report ‘no impact’, while 72% expect an impact, even with an orderly Brexit.
And 32% (up from 21% in March) of firms have postponed a business decision or investment, while only 17% (up from 11%) have accelerated a business decision or investment.
Stalling is higher among export businesses.
With regard to preparedness, 77% reported that Brexit is on the agenda of their top management – up from 33% after the referendum in mid-2016.
This rises to 86% among British exporters. An extra 14% have been discussing Brexit within the past six months. Key areas of concern are supply chain, tariffs, and customs protocols.
And 60% have sought information through attending workshops, applying for supports, or reading information they received. This compares with 40% in March.
The survey reveals that 33% of firms have taken some action, while 42% of those exporting to Britain have done so.
It may be difficult for SMEs to act when the exact challenges remain unclear. In all, 22% of SME importers/ exporters plan to engage a customs agent (12% have already actioned this).
And 21% will train someone internally (8% have done so already). Business minister Heather Humphreys said: “I fully accept that it has been difficult for businesses to plan for a situation that is in no way clear-cut. The fact that we have had a number of false starts at this stage may have created some doubt in the business community about whether Brexit would happen at all.
“The election result means that the UK Government has a clear majority. This brings a certainty we have been lacking up to now, and every indication is that the UK will be leaving the EU at the end of January.
“The threat of a crash-out may have subsided for now, but the reality is that any kind of Brexit is going to hurt Irish enterprise. It’s important also for everybody to remember that Brexit doesn’t end on 31 January.”
She added that, if the Withdrawal agreement were passed, it would achieve the core objectives of ensuring no hard border, protecting the Good Friday Agreement, and safeguarding the Single Market.
However, she warned of a long and complex process ahead of negotiations on the future relationship between the EU and Britain.
“Against this backdrop, my message to firms is this: act now to protect your business and employees. Brexit is happening and businesses must, therefore, proactively plan for a different trading relationship with the UK,” she concluded.