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British businesses are planning a £1.7bn investment boost over the next two years as Brexit uncertainty ends, a new survey has revealed.

Plans to expand premises and employ more staff top the agenda for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), according to the results of the study by finance specialist Together.

More than a quarter (27%) of owners and senior executives at SMEs – the equivalent of 1.6 million businesses - plan to move premises as apprehension over the UK’s departure from the European Union ebbs away.

Meanwhile 23% of companies who took part in the survey said they plan to expand their workforce in the next two years.

The survey results were published after the EU withdrawal bill was voted through the Commons this month, with just the House of Lords left to navigate before the UK leaves the EU on 31 January.

Andrew Charnley, Head of Corporate Relationships at Together, said: “The investment taps can now be turned back on with UK SMEs expecting to pump more than £1.7bn into the national economy. Our survey has identified major commitments in the North and Midlands in particular, where firms plan to spend more than a third of the cash.

“However, they will need support from lenders who do not take a ‘one size fits all’ approach and are willing to look at proposals in the round including focusing on business prospects and regional differences.”

Nearly one in five (18%) firms plan to upgrade and refurbish their existing premises while 12% expect to buy new buildings and 7% will build their own property, the study revealed.

Those SMEs planning investment said they expected to spend an average of nearly £370,000 each as the end of uncertainty enables them to plan for the future.

Businesses in Yorkshire and The Humber and those in the South East are expecting to invest the most - nearly £450,000 on average.

Businesses in London are planning to invest an average £420,000, according to the survey results.

About a fifth of SMEs (21%) say they had postponed plans to move premises because of Brexit uncertainty while 23% had delayed pay rises for workers and 19% had deferred plans to take on more staff.

However, the decisive general election result means 42% of firms are now optimistic about their prospects compared to just 8% who would have been optimistic if the uncertainty had continued. Not all businesses agree – two out of five say the departure from the EU makes no difference.

More than half (54%) of SMEs questioned had initially been pessimistic, saying that Brexit uncertainty had been holding back their businesses. That figure has now dropped to 18% since the election result.

Regionally, firms in the North West and Yorkshire and The Humber had been the most downbeat with 67% and 66% worried about the future. However, the election seems to have brought renewed optimism with 53% and 47% respectively saying they are more upbeat.

The table below shows the picture across the UK and how Brexit uncertainty has affected SMEs and the impact of the end of uncertainty on business optimism.

REGION

PESSIMISM OVER BREXIT UNCERTAINTY CONTINUING

OPTIMISM AFTER BREXIT UNCERTAINTY ENDED

INVESTMENT INCREASES PLANNED

North West

67%

53%

£134m

Yorkshire & The Humber

66%

45%

£158m

South West

65%

47%

£157m

North East

64%

57%

£50m

West Midlands

64%

52%

£139m

Scotland

55%

35%

£71m

London

50%

37%

£393m

Wales

45%

27%

£31m

East Midlands

43%

48%

£117m

South East

38%

44%

£337m

East

37%

27%

£102m

GREAT BRITAIN

54%

42%

£1.741bn

Neina Sheldon
Article by Neina Sheldon
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