Robert Hannah: The future is bright for mid-market businesses

According to Grant Thornton COO Robert Hannah, the key to unlocking the UK’s future growth lies with mid-market businesses.

By Dan Matthews

The UK’s medium-sized businesses have a huge opportunity,’ says Grant Thornton’s Robert Hannah. ‘Our exports lag far behind those of Germany’s Mittelstand, so this is an obvious area where we can make up ground post-Brexit.

‘Low exports are not a new issue, but the EU referendum has brought it into sharp focus. We have some great export-focused sectors like food and beverage, and pharmaceuticals, but we do not create enough access to export markets across the economy. The opportunity exists, but we need to get it right.’

Regarding the ongoing Brexit negotiations, Grant Thornton would like to ‘move from the politics to the policies’, meaning that government and businesses should put in place measures now to help businesses thrive outside the bloc.

‘Export tax credits would entice businesses,’ says Hannah, spelling out the options. ‘There should be more partnerships between businesses and universities to ensure a plentiful supply of specialist vocational skills and developing the skills that will be required in the economy of tomorrow, like data scientists. We also need to take advantage of the weak pound to increase our exporting activity.’

In its Blueprint for the UK report, published in June, Grant Thornton has put forward further suggestions to increase market penetration overseas.

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‘There are examples of whole sectors succeeding in global markets. The Scotch whisky industry delivers worldwide and has sophisticated distribution networks into global economies.

‘What if other businesses had access to those? We could create a database of growing businesses that would gain accreditation and, as a result, work with large corporates in developing business globally. The collaboration would benefit everyone, but smaller firms would be able to get over the significant hurdle of reaching out beyond UK borders.’

It’s an example of the lateral thinking needed to replace frictionless selling into the single market, which could be limited post-Brexit.

For Hannah, cooperative business networks, set up in conjunction with government, could be replicated in aerospace, financial services, retail and food and beverage to build a stronger presence on the global stage.

‘It would be foolish to expect the world to be waiting with open arms for the UK once we leave the EU. The reality is that competition will be fierce. We will need to work very hard to compete but partnerships and joint ventures will give us the boost we need.’

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