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Preparing your business for Brexit

Written by Bedfordshire Chamber of Commerce | 04 Mar 2019

The uncertainty and frustration gripping the UK right now are palpable.

And as further ambiguity weaves its way through Brexit proceedings and negotiations, the majority of us are still unaware of how to prepare, or provide solutions and definitive advice to our workforces and peers.

The complex nature of what we are heading into is bound by a decision to break away from existing structures and support systems that previously stabilised the economy as far as labour, regulation, export and supply chains -all of which will undoubtedly be compromised on the other side of the deadline.

As for now, we await the 29th March with no further clarity or direction on how  loose ends will be tied, or how much business will be impacted. 

What we can be sure of is that highly regulated sectors and those dependent on export and labour from the EU, will be directly affected. Industries such as sciences, medical and technology, for example.

But for smaller to medium-sized business, it's more likely to be the aftermath of the seismic shockwaves resulting from interminable negotiating, diverting and no-win deals that will impact operations.

One thing is for sure, a 'no deal' Brexit risks full-blown economic upheaval.  

As an advising body, it's difficult to provide black and white answers to the never-ending list of unknowns when the government itself is failing to provide any solid answers. But, rest assured there are some actions you can take to prepare your workforce, your business, and your supply chains. 

Brexit will impact your business if you:

  • Buy or sell high volumes of goods or services from the EU

  • Are heavily reliant on EU staff

  • Operate in highly regulated areas such as financial, legal or goods, chemicals and pharmacy

  • Benefit from EU Research and Development grants and funds

  • Invest in UK based assets

Preparing your workforce

A good place to start is with your workforce. This is essentially the core of your business and will take the first hit of this unprecedented uncertainty.

It is recommended that businesses carry out a full workforce audit to ascertain who will be affected. This includes EEA nationals who are in the UK as family members of European nationals.

For lower skilled workers, free movement of EU nationals to the UK will end. And after the end of this period, there will be no preferential access to the UK for EEA citizens and they will need immigration permission, the same way non-EEA citizens will.

There will however be a temporary route for those from ‘low-risk’ countries to come and work in the UK for up to 12 months, this includes low skilled workers. 

For smaller businesses, preparation might come in the form of something less onerous, such as communication and transparency with your staff. Reassuring your staff of job security and offering legal advice to EU nationals who wish to remain in the UK. 

It's perhaps important to point out that access to labour is not necessarily a border issue. The volatility is expected to extend to the relationship between the UK and EU. Marks and Spencer, for example, have cited that ‘growing market labour shortages’ have been exacerbated by Brexit. Businesses should therefore widen their resources and sources for attracting talent, for example,  internships and apprenticeships that strengthen CSR and reputation within the community.

Future proofing your supply chain

Fortunately, the transition period ahead of us is thought to be positive for smaller businesses as it will limit disruption to supply chains. But supply chain resilience comes from forming multiple relationships that will help to circumvent future uncertainties.

Managing supply chain risks begins with discussions with both suppliers and customers, so you can begin to plan and prepare for any additional costs that a post-Brexit trading agreement might involve. 

Identify opportunities

Interestingly, many businesses are assessing the present landscape to identify business opportunities. For example, one food and drink manufacturer are anticipating growth as a result of Brexit, and hopes to grow its market in the UK where raw materials are produced. 

A positive outlook alone is one way of handling both the transitional period and tacking any unforeseen eventualities. Identifying opportunities can help build more robust business structures and supply chain relationships.

Scenario planning

Scenario planning involves analysing all potential impacting factors to detail how your business will deal with uncertain scenarios. This is difficult in the fact that it's impossible to predict exactly how and which scenarios will come to fruition, but with adaptable and flexible business planning,  you can ensure contingencies are in place to deal with all eventualities.

Having an action plan and offering education and support to employees will prepare your business for the imminent period of transition. Don't forget, the British Chambers of Commerce have created a useful Brexit Checklist to help you with your planning.

Exit negotiations have been taking place for over two years now. Changes to regulation, disruption to supply chains and threats to citizenships appear to be the biggest challenges for employers right now.

As far as can be expected, it will be 'business as usual' in the short-term while we go through a transitional period. At present, we don't expect any imminent changes, so there's no need to worry about waking up on 30th March to a huge crash. Through education and planning, we can keep businesses afloat, and build sustainable models that adapt and bounce back under the pressure of these difficult times.

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Topics: brexit

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