SMEs split on Brexit impact

Hannah Jordan
Wednesday, September 14, 2016

SME owners, including printers, in the UK are divided on how much impact the decision to leave the EU is having on their businesses, a survey has revealed.

The latest quarterly Business Barometer, carried out in July by asset finance firm Close Brothers, showed that although not overwhelmingly negative, printers were generally more cautious about investment following the vote.

Responses from the print sector aligned very closely with those of others UK SMEs when asked whether they had seen a direct impact on their business caused by the decision to leave the EU.   

More than half of the 900 SMEs (56%) responding to the survey said that they had yet to feel an impact on levels of business due the UK’s decision to leave the EU, although in the print sector that figure was marginally higher at 57%. Nearly a third (30%) said they had been impacted and 13% stated it was too early to tell, compared to 24% and 20% of respondents from other sectors.

In terms of spending decisions, printers seemed to be more cautious than other sectors with 63% saying they hadn't delayed investment decisions due to the Brexit vote compared to 76% of other respondents. In a geographical breakdown businesses in Greater London appeared to be most affected with 46% saying Brexit had impacted business compared to 20% in the North East, where businesses were least affected. 

Managing director of Swindon-based printer Acorn Press, Patrick Crouch, said despite the inevitable knee-jerk reactions and slow-down across the industry in the immediate wake of the referendum, he intended to continue to invest, albeit “with fingers crossed”.  

“There has been an effect, if not really huge, but some of our clients are definitely putting things on hold for a bit while they monitor the Brexit effect,” he said. 

Crouch said that while there was undeniably some impact, it would take time to understand what the long-term fallout would be.

“It slowed a lot of the enterprising ideas that were starting to happen, including mine to be honest. There was a recovery and we had increased our staff and were really beginning to expand,” Crouch explained.  

He added: “I’m not going to let this stop me but I am definitely doing it with less certainty than I had before. We are making capital investment, with bigger investment planned for next year, and will continue to expand the team and increase the shift patterns."  

Last month the BPIF's quarterly Printing Outlook survey also revealed that confidence in the printing industry had been shaken by the Brexit vote, with output falling and expectations for the quarter ahead far from bullish, although hopes were for a quick return to balance after the news had had time to sink in. 

Elsewhere, UK manufacturing bodies reported a fall in national output immediately following the Brexit vote although latest figures point to a recovery over the past month.

Heidelberg UK managing director Gerard Heanue, said he felt the printing industry reflected the national climate among manufacturers. "It was quiet over the summer, but it is quiet every summer so we aren't sure if it's just a reaction to Brexit or not.

"There was a lot of concern from customers in the first week or two, but over the last three to four weeks we're seeing better news from the economy and the exchange rate and so about 95% are saying it's business as usual.

He added: "We have seen a lot of activity in post-press and our consumables sales are up on last year. Where there is a demand for a press or an improvement in productivity we are still seeing customers investing and importantly the banks are still willing to lend." 

Picon chief executive Bettine Pellant said that while there had been uncertainty in July, she felt that on balance confidence would recover. 

"People were incredibly confident directly following Drupa and Brexit obviously knocked that but we don't know what Brexit is going to mean in the long-term. It may be a bit early to say, but I'm not feeling pessimistic. Certainly the most buoyant area in print manufacturing is finishing, which is being supported by the growth in packaging."

Pellant said that Picon would be visiting UK manufacturers over the next two weeks to get a clear understanding of how business is moving.


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