Three years since the EU referendum, two versions of the Withdrawal Bill, and still no certainty for UK businesses as to what a post-EU Britain will look like. As we enter another crucial week, the Conservative party is back to work trying to get their latest deal through parliament to determine whether the UK leaves the EU with or without a deal. After all this time a no-deal Brexit remains a possibility, if increasingly unlikely, given the implications of Saturday’s Letwin amendment.
Outside of Westminster, the government has rolled out a national roadshow to provide support for businesses readying themselves for the potential implications of a no-deal Brexit. Nationwide ‘Brexit Business Readiness’ events will provide ‘tailored advice’ for companies throughout the UK. Currently there are 14 events scheduled to prepare 5.7 million businesses. The Welsh government has also launched a business portal providing bespoke guidance if a deal isn’t agreed. But given the stakes, is any of this enough?
A government roadshow isn’t the answer to most of the practical questions that businesses need answering. They may well have broad-brush commonalities with others in their sector, their region, or within their networks, but a company is individual, with specific needs, aspirations, and challenges. Business owners are not going to get the tailored answers required from a seminar attended by hundreds of other local firms, being talked to from the stage by a civil servant.
Business knows this, and so does government.
One factor that all companies do have in common, no matter their sector, geography or size, is that what to prepare for remains an unanswered question. A no deal Brexit which the CBI’s chief said will plunge the UK into a “swamp-like” situation? The passing of PM Johnson’s deal which paves the way for business as usual, at least during a transition period? Facing this level of uncertainty more than three years after the 2016 referendum is rightly causing frustration. However, the irony is that responsible and dedicated business leaders have about as much time to be frustrated, as they do to trek into Reading, Manchester or Bristol, to hear from a government official. They are getting on with running their company.
Our research into challenges for businesses shows that economic instability remains the largest barrier to their resilience. Business isn’t sitting around wondering if it will happen. Without that stability having come from the centre, business is securing it for themselves.
They are having conversations with suppliers, shoring up their cashflow, reassuring staff, boosting their stocks. They are turning to trusted support for advice on what they can do to ensure their companies remain in the strongest possible position – from local business networks and accountants, to financial brokers and lawyers.
Brokers have an important role to play in ensuring their clients are not only prepared but come out the other side in as strong a position as possible. The key is not only providing the support, advice and consultancy that clients require but also connecting them with flexible funding partners as and when finance is necessary. By doing so, the Brexit fallout and weeks following are when the business and broker relationship will come into its own.
This is why, along with seventeen of the biggest names in lending, we have affirmed our commitment to SMEs through the SME Finance Charter, pledging to support and facilitate business growth through Brexit and beyond.
For those who had expected this weekend would bring at least the beginning of the end, there is obvious disappointment. The UK’s search for a Brexit outcome continues. But, one thing is certain, a government roadshow isn’t the source of support that is going to help business owners ready themselves for the next few months. Brokers and lenders playing their part as invaluable business partners are.