Gavin Lendon is a Partner at Romulus Advisory and specialises in offering Brexit advice to food and drink businesses, so here are his top tips on how to prepare for Brexit

[Big Cheese Expertise Guest Post] Hi, my name is Gavin Lendon and I’m a Partner at Romulus Advisory. We specialise in offering Brexit advice to businesses, so here are my top tips on how to prepare for Brexit in the current landscape.

The challenge of Brexit for SMEs…

“The day after we vote to leave, we hold all the cards and we can choose the path we want.” – Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Environment, April 2016.

A week is a long time in politics and two years is an aeon. Well, almost two years on, the only thing we have learned is that the politicians are not business leaders! The second vote taken by MPs meant that Mrs May has a clear mandate to push for something that the EU has already said is unacceptable. Given the timescale, this increases the odds of a no deal.

So where does this leave the food and drink industry?

As the UK’s largest manufacturing sector by output (17% of UK manufacturing by GVA – £28.2 billion) and representing 400,000 employees, you would expect it to be a bit of a priority, however, it is as much in the dark as everyone else.

One reason for this may be that 98% of the sector is represented by small and medium-sized businesses and it is spread fairly evenly over the nation. Hence, no one MP is affected by a major body of constituents, unlike the motor industry with its regional concentration. Thus, the industry finds its message somewhat diluted.

Cake with EU on the outside and UK in the middle

Government Brexit preparations

The government has been busily preparing for Brexit so we are told.

What guidance is there?

Well, in the event of a no deal, the government has proved we can cope with 87 lorries driving into Dover and the port of Ramsgate will be home to a non-existent ferry company, with no ships and a take way menu as its T&Cs.

But beyond that, there is at best, limited guidance released by the government. This is basically because we do not know what Brexit is going to look like. Although the government’s website contains technical advice on what to do in the event of no deal, it’s not well written and offers little practical help.

Brexit roulette wheel

Industry preparation

Back in 2016, 31% of food & drink businesses said Brexit would not affect them. Of that 31%, there is a degree of ostrich mentality. Hopefully, that percentage should have fallen now as people have become more aware of the implications of Brexit.

Should we simply just give up?

Not if you believe in your business.

There are some actions you can take when looking at the pillars of your business as a base to develop your plans.

1. Customers

Your customers are your lifeblood.

As such we should consider how Brexit will affect them – for example, will they need better credit terms or their deliveries altered?

Selling directly to the public? Consider making Brexit offers or analysing regular customer spending patterns. This can highlight which customers are at risk.

Early engagement will highlight the individual risks that you face as a small business. A constructive dialogue will help to overcome most of these through mitigation strategies or, crystallise those that have the greater associated risk.

If you export, one means of avoiding obstacles post-Brexit is for your business to apply for Trusted Trade Status by obtaining an AEO Certificate.

If your business has AEO status, it demonstrates that your customs, controls and procedures are deemed to be efficient and comply with EU standards.

By obtaining AEO status, administrative burdens can be reduced and, in certain situations, this will enable shipments to be ‘fast-tracked’ through customs post-Brexit. To benefit from this, businesses must be organised and take action as soon as possible. If in doubt contact me to discuss this in more detail.

UK Passport and flag

2. Employees

The level of EU employees has been estimated at 38% and not all of these are low skilled roles. In terms of future immigration post-Brexit, existing EU nationals can apply for the right to stay and the government is waiving the ludicrous £65 fee.

For future immigration, the current draft white paper indicated that a points system would be introduced for immigrants on salaries in excess of £30,000 whilst below this level, there would be no anticipated immigration. This potentially could be very damaging for the industry as for example, pubs in rural tourist areas are already finding it problematic to recruit.

It’s not all gloom and doom however and some pragmatic solutions do exist.

For example, conversations with local technical colleges could set up some apprenticeship schemes which will give local businesses a supply of local labour that they can train on the job.

3. Logistics

Most businesses rely on just in time delivery where stock levels are low and this is particularly true where fresh produce is involved in the supply chain.

To develop a solution, you need to determine the extent of the problem.

  • Firstly, identify which parts of the supply chain the UK’s exit from the EU will affect you the most
  • Secondly, consider what alternative arrangements could be made to simplify matters – e.g. could products which are imported from outside the UK be sourced elsewhere within the UK?
  • Thirdly, consider what contingency measures are most appropriate to your organisation’s specific circumstances – e.g. obtaining additional storage in order to stockpile goods might be suitable for some businesses, but not others
  • Fourthly, consider your cash flow needs in order to make suitable arrangements with suppliers and customers – consider purchasing and storing as part of a collective as this would increase purchase power and possibly provide additional storage space

4. Costs

There is likely to be an increase in costs at least in the short term, through both foreign exchange impacts and also the effects of tariff changes. These will impact not just your direct costs but will have wider implications for overheads etc.

The question is whether as an organisation you can absorb them or do you need to pass them onto your customers?

5. Funding

Early dialogue with your funders is crucial given the potential impacts of Brexit will have. Equally, a lot of organisations will be in a similar position so there will be a rise in demand for short-term funding.

It is anticipated that there will be a potential funding cost increase post-Brexit through a short-term increase in funding requirements. However, this is believed to be offset by the Bank of England’s own post-Brexit planning in the event of no deal.

6. Contracts

Review supply, manufacturing and distribution agreements to:

(i) insert appropriate “Brexit” clauses

(ii) address any anomalies

For example, if a distribution agreement defines the “Territory” as the EU, ensure it is amended to cover the EU and UK post-Brexit.

7. Planning

Brexit is a known risk and as such, shareholders can argue that directors should have Brexit plans in place to discharge their fiduciary duties. Therefore it would be wise to adopt ‘scenario modelling’ in order to identify various potential consequences for your business post-Brexit.

This will assist directors and businesses in:

  • identifying areas where there may be problems
  • ascertaining arrangements which could be put in place to overcome these problems

While the government obsesses about delivering the will of the people, the food and drink industry must continue to trade. 

As you can see above, there are positive actions that can be taken now in this uncertain landscape, as the alternative is simply to be an ostrich and hope it doesn’t affect you…

Get in touch

If you have any more questions about how your business can prepare for Brexit, you can visit our websiteemail me or follow us on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.

More food for thought…

Hey, Charlotte here, thanks for reading through to the end! If you enjoyed this then you’ll love ‘How to protect your intellectual property and ‘A beginner’s guide to exporting your food & drink brand‘.

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