When the UK decided it no longer wanted to be a part of the European Union, and voted for “Brexit”, it heralded a new era. Voters had based their decision on their own individual views of immigration, Brussels and the NHS. Little attention was given to the wider impact that the New Dawn would have for business. Indeed, the issue was often overlooked at all levels, perhaps even by business itself.
Certainly there were those that tried to persuade employees to vote “Remain”, but that was “big business”. Individual small businesses that regularly ship goods to Europe, or need reliable Euro pallet delivery services to survive, awoke on 23rd June 2016 faced with the prospect of much uncertainty. Perhaps they didn’t see much change overnight, but it is the direction that the country as a whole is taking that will impact them in the longer term.
So what does this New Dawn herald?
Beyond Europe there are many markets that are attractive possibilities for small businesses. Indeed, London is to receive its first freight train delivery direct from China, opening up a new “Silk Route” for trade.
But businesses will not want to simply forget Europe, they cannot afford to hedge their bets further afield. Whilst they must remain open to ideas, they will have to rely heavily on existing trade with established customers. It is this shipping trade and the impact that the New Dawn will have that is cause for concern.
Currently, being a part of the Union, allow for free trade, but the Government has indicated that it no longer wants to be a part of the Single Market, meaning that the movement of goods may be restricted, subject to tariffs or made uncompetitive through none membership. It is all well and good signalling a wider World with which to trade, but small business relies on existing contracts to secure cash flow before it can look further afield. The exit for some may be a great long-term plan, but small businesses may struggle to survive in the shorter term.
Whilst the government continues to debate the meaning and reality of Brexit, small business is left in limbo. Uncertainty about the medium to long-term future remains. Those that survive may well benefit from trade outside of Europe, and in the immediate term, before we have formally exited the Union, day to day, there may be seen to be little difference at all.
But change is coming. The best way to deal with change is to prepare, draw up plans and to ensure a degree of continuity. Of course Europe will still want our goods, but only if it cannot get an equivalent item elsewhere at a more competitive price. What voters failed to guarantee is the certainty that small business requires. How can you possibly plan for an event when the event itself is not certain, or the key components could be one of any number of alternatives? Asking small business to be prepared for the unknown is simply unfair, asking them to welcome the New Dawn is unrealistic.
The uncertainty continues, whether each small business will, is another matter.