East Anglia's small businesses adapting to survive and thrive in post-Brexit world

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Small businesses in the Anglia region have explained how they have adapted to survive and thrive after Brexit.

Some have had to make new trading arrangements to sell abroad, or set up new offices on the continent, while others have refocused on domestic markets.

ITV News Anglia has been catching up with small businesses across the region to find out more about what the end of the UK's membership of the European Union has meant for their fortunes.

Horizon in Ely in Cambridgeshire manufactures marketing displays for brands all across Europe. In the 10 years it has been operating, business has never been so good.  

Director Andrew Moss said: “We’re about 35% up compared to last year and the year before. We’re doing a lot of international work - we’re shipping materials to Germany, to Holland, a lot to France - so the EU is making up about 80% of our turnover right now.”

The upturn is largely due to some of the company’s competitors having closed as a result of Brexit.

Director Andrew Moss said Brexit had meant more opportunities for his business, after initial disruption. Credit: ITV News Anglia

After the UK left the EU, companies had to start charging VAT on exports to Europe, which put up their prices by 20%. Mr Moss described it as "a car crash".

His clients went elsewhere and his business ground to a halt within 24 hours. The only solution was to start a company in Holland, at a cost of £100,000. Costs and time to ship goods has doubled but he has been able to cover this with the increased turnover.

“We didn’t have a choice,” he said. “It was either start a company in Europe or lose our customers. Brexit brought enormous problems but with the creation of our new business in Holland it brought us enormous opportunities and we’ve seen positive trading ever since.

"We’ve adapted and we’ve succeeded.”

Ananth Murthy has been reflecting on the impact of Brexit on his business. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Ananth Murthy runs The Timber Maker in Danbury in Essex, sending handmade furniture from India. He was due to expand into the EU but since Brexit he has put those plans on hold and focused on increasing UK sales.

He said: “We’ve ramped up marketing efforts here. The pandemic organically shifted people’s behaviour in terms of how they were purchasing furniture.

"People were spending a lot more time at home so they were looking at home improvements.”

He accepts that when he ventures into the EU, he too will have to set up a distribution base in Europe.

Lauren Dovey from the Federation of Small Businesses Credit: ITV News Anglia

Lauren Dovey is from the Federation of Small Businesses, which is calling on the government to do more to support companies.

“We know that in 2021 at least one in five exporters stopped exporting,” she said.

“We don’t know whether that is temporary or whether they ceased trading for good.

"We also know from a recent Office of National Statistics study that at least half of small businesses are still experiencing real negative impact.” 

In a statement, the Department of Business said: “We’ve always been clear that being outside the single market and the customs union would mean changes and that businesses would need to adapt to new processes. That is why additional support is being offered. “

The government said exports to the EU were 4% higher last year than in 2020, a year severely disrupted by the pandemic.

Some small businesses have shared in this success but not without significant change to the way they operate.