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This has been a year of disruption and frustration for so many businesses.
It will end, as it began, with huge uncertainty around the final terms of the UK’s exit from the EU – and the impact on individuals, businesses and communities.
During 2020, our lives, work and trade were upended by twin health and economic crises. Business and society hit the fast-forward button, condensing years of change into the space of mere months. For a short while, firms put the challenges of Brexit to one side to focus on the more immediate task of survival.
On the positive side, many businesses learned to do things differently. The cause of agile and flexible working has leapt light years ahead in mere months. New companies and business lines have been born, responding to shifts in demand. And companies have done everything possible to become Covid-secure to ensure the safety of their staff, customers and suppliers.
From the darkest days of lockdown, the contribution of civic businesses to their local communities has been immense. So many UK businesses have stepped up in the fight against the pandemic – working hand-in-hand with the NHS and public services to save lives. Close coordination between government and business also helped to save many livelihoods, with emergency financial support for many of the firms that needed it most.
Without a doubt, the arrival of mass vaccination gives our business communities hope for a better year in 2021. They want to be able to open without interruption, for their customers and suppliers to be able to come and go freely, for trade to recover and for confidence to return.
And their chances of an economic rebound will be stronger if four years of Brexit stalemate can be brought to an end by a comprehensive agreement between the UK and the EU.
Even with a deal, firms face an enormous amount of change on 1 January. As Chambers of Commerce have said repeatedly, there are huge gaps in the information available to businesses desperate to prepare as the Brexit transition comes to an end.
Responsibility rests squarely with the UK government to provide crystal-clear guidance that lets businesses plan into 2021 and beyond.
Businesses need detailed answers, not vague letters, posters or television adverts. It is hard to believe that we still have to ask ministers for clarity on the nuts and bolts of trade – things like rules of origin, customs software, tariff codes and much more besides – just a fortnight before the end of the transition period. It is all the more frustrating because some of the grey areas for firms lie outside the scope of UK-EU negotiations, and could have been addressed some time ago.
Ultimately, businesses can and will adapt to the UK’s new trade reality. Yet they are not miracle workers or mind-readers. Without official guidance they can act on, many will continue to pause long-term planning and hold back on investment.
Clear information, together with a UK-EU agreement that provides a strong foundation for future trade, would help get things moving again. The two sides could turn their attention to how to keep trade flowing, and help businesses adjust to a new reality, rather than political sparring between London and Brussels.
The alternative is a new year that begins with even greater turbulence for supply chains, trade and markets – and higher costs for us all.
Deal or no deal, businesses will have to be flexible and fleet-of-foot over the coming months, as they grapple with the changes wrought by Brexit and Covid uncertainty. Many will have to rethink tried and trusted business models, supply chains and market strategies.
Yet it is still possible for 2021 to be a year for the UK to restart, rebuild, and renew – and for businesses to seek new opportunities. An end to the political drama of the last four years and an agreement with our nearest and closest trading partner would be a great place to start.
Adam Marshall is director general of the British Chambers of Commerce
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Businesses need detailed answers on Brexit, not vague letters or TV ads | Brexit