Three-quarters of high growth small firms back EU membership

Brexit report

10 February 2016

75% of high growth small businesses surveyed by Aston University's Centre for Growth plan to vote for the UK to stay in the EU   

SMEs account for 15.6 million (60%) of all private sector jobs in the UK and £1.75 trillion (47%) of revenue per annum. As such, small businesses have an important perspective on the question of the UK’s relationship with Europe; in particular, high-growth small businesses that are creating a large proportion of UK jobs, seeking new markets and opportunities to export.

As a provider of support to small business leaders seeking to grow their businesses, the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Programme UK was well placed to ascertain the views of an ambitious group of fast-growing businesses.

The almost 1,000 participants in the programme were asked a range of questions on how their business interacts with the EU and their attitudes towards a possible withdrawal – a ‘BrExit’. Overall, 365 business owners responded to the online survey in late August/September last year which represented a response rate of 40%.

75% of respondents would vote for the UK to stay within the EU if a referendum was held 'now', with only 6% voting to leave. This figure rises to 82% among those businesses who are operating in international markets.

Half (51%) the businesses have sales to international customers and of these the vast majority are to the EU and almost a quarter say the EU market is important to the growth of their business.

The major obstacle to growth was seen as that of recruiting staff, and the EU labour market provides an opportunity for many of these businesses to address that challenge. For a significant minority (15%) access to the EU labour market has been important for the growth of their business. 30% of those surveyed had recruited staff from the rest of the EU within the last 12 months and the vast majority of these were skilled workers including a significant number of managerial staff.

Professor Mark Hart, Professor of Small Business and Entrepreneurship at Aston Business School, and Programme Director and Academic Lead, Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses UK, was interviewed on the subject last week for Politico Morning Exchange

Professor Hart said:

“These high growth companies may only be a small proportion of all businesses, but they create a huge number of jobs in our economy. As such, their opinion on the European question is crucial.

“While it’s for politicians to put forward the competing cases for staying inside or leaving the EU, the message from some of our leading small business entrepreneurs is clear: Europe is, on balance, good for business and they don’t want to jeopardise that.”

Greg McDonald, owner of Goodfish, a group of toolmaking and injection moulding businesses based in Cannock,said:

“Being 'at the table’ is the only way for the EU to work in our interests. Goodfish's growing trade directly with the customers in the EU and indirectly with OEMs who themselves are exporting to the EU would be at risk in the longer term if we were to exit the EU. We are attracting significant FDI at the moment; this might well change if we were to extract ourselves from the EU. We need to stay in the EU and build influence rather than play around at the edges.”

Download the full report here.

Link to the Politico Morning Exchange article.


Notes to editors

1.    Professor Mark Hart 

Mark is Deputy Director of the ERC and Professor of Small Business and Entrepreneurship at Aston Business School. At the Centre he is responsible for the research theme focusing on 'Business Demographics'. At Aston University he is also responsible for the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses programme in the Midlands and has worked and published extensively in the areas of entrepreneurship, enterprise and small business development and policy.

About the Aston Centre for Growth

Aston Centre for Growth offers leading growth programmes and other opportunities for SME owners looking to grow their business. Since it began in 2011, the Centre has directly supported over 400 businesses in their growth. In 2014-15 we delivered nearly 10,000 hours of learning via practical workshops, and created networking and pitching opportunities for over 500 businesses leaders.

Aston is one of only three business schools nationally to hold Small Business Charter Gold status. Programmes run by Aston Centre for Growth include the national Goldman Sachs  10,000 Small Businesses programme.

Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses UK

The 10,000 Small Businesses programme is an investment by the Goldman Sachs Foundation to provide high quality, structured and practically focused support to small business leaders who are seeking to grow their businesses with a view to growing economies. The programme is designed specifically for the leaders of established small businesses who have the ambition and the potential to generate substantial growth in their enterprises. Participants benefit from a full package of support with a strong focus on structured peer learning and the creation of communities of entrepreneurs.


For further information, please contact Katy Lewis at Aston Business School on 0121 204 3124 or email [email protected]