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Businesses talk Brexit at Somerset Chamber panel discussion

Risk mitigation, logistical challenges and EU immigration were key topics of conversation at a Brexit panel discussion event held on Wednesday 6 February for the region’s businesses.

Organised by Somerset Chamber of Commerce and hosted by Leonardo Helicopters in Yeovil, the half-day event gave businesses an opportunity to learn from the preparations that other firms have made to mitigate the risks relating to Brexit.

Julian Russell from Leonardo Helicopters talked about what the global aerospace business has been doing to prepare, including the creation of an internal Brexit working group and detailed scenario planning. He recommended that businesses take a three-step approach, identifying their risk areas, taking proactive steps to mitigate these, and then ensuring clear communication with staff, management, suppliers and customers.

Mark Johnson from Leonardo’s logistics partner, Kuehne + Nagel, outlined the logistics elements of what might happen in a post-Brexit world, from tailbacks along the Kent corridor and beyond, through to the challenge of introducing customs declarations for the EU. He referenced some of the factors that Kuehne + Nagel has been considering through its own internal working group, which comprises all areas of their business. In addition, he talked about his role on the Cross Border Logistics Steering Group, advising the government on logistics issues relating to Brexit.

The topic of immigration was discussed by David Faulkner-Bryant from The Visa Office, who emphasised that EU workers currently make up 10-12% of the UK workforce. He commented that having access to this migrant workforce is essential for our businesses and economy, highlighting the new EU Settlement Scheme that gives EU workers currently living in Britain the right to remain in the UK.

Mike Spicer, Director of Research and Economics at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), gave delegates insight into the preparations and lobbying work going on behind the scenes, highlighting the important role that Chambers of Commerce have in creating a bridge between government and business. He referenced some of the valuable tools and guidance available through the BCC Brexit Hub, including the Business Brexit Checklist and Brexit Risk Register.

The importance of the accredited Chamber network was stressed by Stephen Henagulph, Chief Executive at Somerset Chamber of Commerce, who highlighted their ability to amplify local and regional business views, feeding information to the BCC that helps to influence the government, as well as receiving valuable information back for transmission to member businesses.

Delegates were given an opportunity to ask questions of the panellists following the presentations, with topics ranging from stockpiling and certifications to the sentiment in Europe towards the UK.

Speaking after the event, Stephen Henagulph said, “Without any of the key decisions being made, it is extremely difficult for businesses to make judgements or plan for the future. Many of the key points referenced in the Chamber network’s Business Brexit Checklist are still not being addressed sufficiently and businesses are getting increasingly frustrated. Indecision is not the way forward; it’s a bit like just kicking the can down the road.

“This event was important as it provided an opportunity to bring businesses together as a cohesive group of people who share common goals and challenges, whether they’re working in the manufacture of helicopters, in agriculture, or in the service industry.

“It was clear from the presentations and questions today, this country is not ready. We have only 38 working days to go until 29 March when we leave the EU. A ‘No Deal’ Brexit is simply not practical, it doesn’t work for business as the preparations are not yet complete, and that in itself has become a frustration.

“That said, Somerset Chamber is here to provide support and guidance to our members. Any Somerset based businesses with questions on Brexit or in need of further advice are encouraged to get in touch or visit our website.”

Further information and tools including the Business Brexit Checklist can be found on the Somerset Chamber website, at www.somerset-chamber.co.uk/business-support/business-brexit-priorities/

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