A large percentage of business owners would vote 'leave' in the upcoming EU referendum, a study shows.
British businesses are still torn on Europe, with almost half (49 per cent) of those surveyed saying they would vote to remain in the EU, according to a study of more than 1,000 small and medium-sized enteprise (SME) decision-makers by Zurich.
Of the remaining 12 per cent, 11 per cent are unsure and 1 per cent would not vote.
Economic growth seems to be a key concern among British SMEs, with more than two in five (42 per cent) of those surveyed stating that leaving the EU would have a negative effect on the UK economy over the next five years.
Only one fifth (19 per cent) of the decision-makers believe that there would be a positive effect on the UK’s economy.
The skills shortage also appears to be high on the agenda, as almost three quarters (73 per cent) of respondents indicate that skills shortages are already a problem for businesses throughout the country.
In the event of an Out vote, more than a third (35 per cent) of SMEs believe the UK would not have enough skilled workers in five years’ time.
The business decision-makers agree almost unanimously that the UK needs to work harder to develop its own skilled workers (92 per cent).
The survey shows that pro-EU sentiment is highest among business respondents working in London and Scotland. The regions are home to the highest proportion of business decision-makers in the survey who have stated they will vote to stay in the EU, with more than three fifths (61 per cent) of businesses backing the In campaign (of those surveyed in London and Scotland).
Those surveyed in the North West of England are also positive on remaining in the EU, with 58 per cent backing the In campaign.
Sentiment throughout the rest the UK is in stark contrast, with more than half of businesses surveyed in the East of England stating that they would vote to leave the EU in a referendum (56 per cent) and half of businesses in Yorkshire and the Humber state they would do the same (49per cent).
Of the 11 regions surveyed, just two regions have more respondents indicating that they would vote to leave the EU than stay.
Further results show a decision to leave the EU may have less of an effect on certain business sectors than has been predicted. More than half of respondents in the construction (51 per cent) and manufacturing (51 per cent) sectors, both widely considered to be reliant on trade links with the EU, indicate that they would not be that concerned about the impact on import/export trade.
Anne Griffiths, head of SME propositions at Zurich says, 'Whether most concerned about economic growth or the amplification of a skills shortage, the noise surrounding the EU Referendum is clearly creating a lot of uncertainty about the risks to small and medium businesses.
'In the event of leaving or staying in the EU, these companies are the heartbeat of the British economy and it is essential they have the tools to enable and support growth.'