Small businesses need grants to help them with Brexit, says IoD

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Proposed scheme would offer SMEs up to £3,000 in legal and professional advice whatever Brexit outcome

The government should give businesses “Brexit planning vouchers” to small businesses to spend on legal and professional advice, said the Institute of Directors.

The IoD has urged Philip Hammond to use his Budget this month to help companies buy in advice “in order to be as prepared as possible for Brexit, whatever the outcome of negotiations”.

Under the proposals, small and medium-sized businesses could be eligible for up to £3,000 to be spent with a government-approved list of suppliers which would help companies to make contingency plans, the institute said. It added that such a scheme should be in place for the duration of any Brexit transition period.

The IoD’s proposal would cost the Chancellor £700m, according to its own analysis.

More than half of SMEs surveyed in the latest IoD research said they would take advantage of financial support.

Stephen Martin, director general of the institute, said: “A Brexit voucher system would help smooth over the inevitably difficult adjustment period. For smaller firms, in particular, the need is for help to work out their individual exposure to changes and the specific measures they can take to adjust.”

The figures are comparable with the financial support offered by InterTrade Ireland and Enterprise Ireland in their Brexit programmes.

The Netherlands Enterprise Agency has already launched its Brexit voucher scheme for Dutch firms with economic interests in the UK to apply for financial aid over advice.

The IoD has said that very few firms have made detailed preparations for a no-deal scenario. This makes the increasing possibility of a hard Brexit deeply concerning, Allie Renison of the IoD told The Daily Telegraph.

One of the most common issues faced by small companies is trying to map out the various stages of their supply chains in order to determine how increased import or export friction with the EU could impact on operations, Ms Renison said.

Addressing such concerns often demanded highly detailed sector-specific knowledge, which companies struggle to source and fund independently.

The IoD has also called for a tax break for SMEs to invest in productivity enhancing technology.