In the third quarter of 2023, the confidence of SMEs in the UK's exports market showed no signs of improvement, according to a recent survey.

The latest Trade Confidence Outlook by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), which involved over 2,000 UK SME exporters, revealed that 49 per cent of these businesses experienced no change in overseas sales, while 25 per cent reported a decrease.

Only 26 per cent of exporting SMEs saw an increase in their international sales during this period.

This lack of growth marks almost five years since the proportion of businesses reporting increased sales exceeded 30 per cent, with SMEs particularly affected.

The study also highlighted a concerning trend: the number of SMEs reporting decreased sales has consistently been 10 percentage points higher than in 2017/18, a trend that worsened during the period leading up to Brexit and has persisted ever since, according to the BCC.

The situation varies across sectors, with SME manufacturers facing the most volatility.

Among them, 28 per cent reported a decrease in exports, 27 per cent saw an increase, and 45 per cent experienced no change.

In contrast, SME services exporters fared slightly better, with 23 per cent facing a decrease, 26 per cent reporting an increase, and 51 per cent remaining constant.

Suzanne Caldwell, managing director of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, said: “The fact that UK exports have remained constant since the pandemic is cause for concern.

News and Star: Suzanne CaldwellSuzanne Caldwell (Image: CCC)

“For businesses in the UK to thrive and for the UK to remain one of the world’s leading economies, we need to sell more goods and services internationally.

“Over the past few years, various factors such as the pandemic, supply chain disruptions, Brexit and global economic headwinds have made exporting more difficult for businesses.

“To address these challenges, we must leverage our strengths as an exporter.

“Here in Cumbria, we have world-leading engineering businesses that export manufactured goods internationally.

“Like the rest of the UK, we also have a strong services sector, whose expertise is in demand around the world, as well as a thriving food and drink sector, tourism, the list goes on.

“Collaboration between businesses and the government is essential to establish a framework that capitalises on these advantages, ensuring the UK's continued presence at the global economic table while facilitating incentives for our exports abroad.

"Lastly, we must look at ways of improving our trade relations with the EU.

“Many businesses have voiced frustrations regarding the complexity and costs associated with trading with the EU, surpassing those encountered elsewhere.”