SMALL and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) in Scotland have been told that now is the time to move into export markets as the pound remains weak following the Brexit vote and the UK’s departure from the European Union (EU) inches ever closer.

The call has come from KMPG following research which showed that just six per cent of companies based in Scotland export, outside the financial services sector.

The accountancy giant, which was citing research carried out by World First, declared that Scottish SMEs are potentially missing out in millions of pounds of revenue by not selling their goods and services in markets overseas. It argues that a move into exports could offset the low-margin pressure faced by SMEs in the UK and lessen their reliance on the domestic market.

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The comments come as the UK Government comes under increasing pressure from the business community to deliver a Brexit deal that limits the damage to the economy arising from the country’s exit from the EU.

Chancellor Philip Hammond revealed at the Budget last month that the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has downgraded its projections for UK economic growth all the way out to the early-2020s as the Brexit-fuelled rise in inflation puts consumer spending under pressure, while trade bodies in the construction sector highlighted last week the danger of a “cliff-edge” in terms of its continuing access to staff from other EU countries.

And the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) yesterday underlined the importance of the government securing a transition deal with the EU by the end of the year to protect jobs and investment.

Neil Allen, director of KPMG in Scotland, said: “Having an overseas strategy makes sense for any business looking to grow but is particularly important for SMEs that function with very tight profit margins.

“Many of those, particularly in Scotland, are often, or wholly reliant on their domestic marketplace. As our departure from the EU gets closer, and with the weak pound proving attractive to overseas buyers, now is the time to reach out to new customers and suppliers further afield. Almost half of UK exports in goods and services went to the EU last year so any increases on duties could impact tight margins making it sensible to start exploring the other options now.”

KPMG noted that there are “perceived barriers and pitfalls” which prevent many companies from selling their products and services overseas, meaning that many firms are not making the most of the export opportunities available to them. It is aiming to ease those concerns with its new online export guide, which it said can be used to help business owners prepare for dealing with customers overseas and point out how ready they are to export.

Mr Allen added: “Whilst ‘going global’ can be a complex task with ?nancial, tax, legal and cultural implications to consider, exporting can also enable a business to diversify its income streams and supply chain, therefore mitigating against market risk. By 2020 China, USA, India, Japan and Brazil are expected to be the leading nations by GDP and UK businesses should be forging links with these countries to get their share of the golden opportunities on offer.”