What Cumbrian businesses really think about Brexit

Almost half of Cumbrian businesses aren’t preparing for Brexit, even though a majority expect it to damage them.

These are the findings of a survey from Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, carried out as the UK approaches Brexit day on March 29th.

Some 48% of businesses that completed the online questionnaire have yet to start preparations.

Just over a quarter said this was because they didn’t expect Brexit to affect them. The rest said it was impossible to plan because the information they needed isn’t available.

Comments included “It’s all unknown – nothing we can do”, and “We don’t know what to do ­– we have discussed but can’t identify any specific activity.”

One specialist manufacturer in South Lakeland said: “How can you prepare for something that might be a deal or no deal? Honestly? If you know, tell me.”

Of those that have made preparations, some have carried out risk assessments on their supply chains or have raised stock levels as a precaution. One has changed its marketing strategy to target non-EU customers.

56% of those completing the survey expect Brexit to harm them, 19% believe it will have a positive effect, 13% say it will be neutral and 10% don’t know. One firm anticipates negative initial impacts but long-term benefits.

Rob Johnston, Chief Executive of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, said: “I sympathise with businesses who say they can’t prepare because we still have no idea what Brexit will look like, or even if it will happen.

“But there is a significant risk that, if Parliament remains deadlocked, we will leave the EU on March 29th without a deal or transition period.

“Businesses should be making contingency plans for that and there is help available. I’d urge businesses to take a look at the resources on the Chamber website. Even if you don’t import or export you may be affected if your suppliers do or if you supply another business that does.”

Click here to access the Government’s ‘Prepare for EU Exit’ website.

Here for a diagnostic tool to help you prepare for EU Exit.

Here for official advice on ‘no deal’ planning.

Here for the British Chambers of Commerce’s Brexit Hub.

And here for our preparing for Brexit podcast with Cumbria Trading Standards.

The survey has been completed by businesses in manufacturing, hospitality, retail, professional services, energy, IT, horticulture, food and drink, media, telecommunications, construction, and transport and distribution.

Their chief Brexit-related concerns were around the potential for tariffs, additional bureaucracy for exports, delays at customs and higher costs if the pound weakens. Some fear Brexit will damage UK consumer confidence and one predicted that “Brexit will probably bankrupt us”.

An IT business in South Lakeland told us that Brexit would make relationships with partner firms in Europe more difficult.

It said: “We will lose our European trade mark which may affect us. We may lose some staff and recruitment will become more difficult and expensive.

“Just sourcing the various software and hardware that we need to maintain our own systems, and support our customers’ systems, will become more difficult and less timely.”

Those increasing stocks said it was having a negative impact on cashflow.

Other businesses are relishing potential opportunities.

One tourism business in Eden said: “Brexit is already having a positive result as the [decline in the] exchange rate is bringing more overseas visitors.”

Another hospitality business, this time in South Lakeland, said: “We are getting ready for a boom. Project fear will end and these of us who are entrepreneurs will be able to take advantage of all the benefits that will accrue.”

When asked where they would look for Brexit advice, the most cited source was the Chamber and its Cumbria Business Growth Hub.

The Chamber is reporting the findings to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to help civil servants fine tune their Brexit planning.

The survey remains open here.

© Cumbria Chamber of Commerce