Look outside Europe for exports – but where is the government support?

The finance directors of businesses in the North West must “hedge their bets” as Brexit strengthens its grip, Richard Halstead, membership engagement director for the North at manufacturing association the EEF, told delegates listening to our Health of a Nation panel which explored what Brexit really means for businesses in the North West. “Look to export outside or Europe and use the local support that’s out there to help you do it.”

But Clive Memmott, chief executive of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, claimed the DTI support to which Richard alluded was “pitiful”. “We have seen a structural trade deficit over the last 50 years. We haven’t got the support structures in place and yet the government is blathering on about going into new markets.”

In the manufacturing-centric North West, any deal that restricted freedom of movement was of particular concern. Panellists were concerned that recent figures around EU nursing staff would be a precursor for a wider exodus from the UK.

“We may expect that they will be given a right to stay, but the bigger question is will they want to stay,” said Clive. “That is going to leave an enormous burden on our education and training which is the other huge problem that needs addressing in the North West.

Mike Clinch, Finance and Operations Director at Manchester-based Supreme Imports, has experienced recruitment difficulties first hand. “We had an English guy turn up at the warehouse this week. He was shown his job, putting bottles into cartons. He walked out.” Mike is now shifting his labour structure to rely less on agencies and try to develop more full time staff.

Over 80 per cent of members of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce are looking for a three-year transitional arrangement to be put in place as the UK prepares to exit Europe, according to Chamber of Commerce CEO Clive Memmott. “FDs must plan for profound uncertainty,” Clive told the audience at FD Surgery Manchester. “It is a case of prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”

But while the mood in the room was palpably anti-Brexit, Steve Barwick, a Director at political consultancy Devoconnect, gave the audience a slither of optimism. He believes there is a ten per cent chance that Brexit might yet not happen. “There is a chance. If Parliament insist on a vote, that vote could be a no.”

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