Continued Brexit uncertainty ‘is the enemy of business’

Businesses leaders tell STV News the confusion caused by Brexit will continue after the UK leaves the EU.

Businesses leaders say the uncertainty caused by Brexit will continue after the UK officially leaves the European Union. 

On January 31 at 11pm, the UK’s membership of the EU will legally end.

Under the terms of the withdrawal agreement, the UK will enter a transition period scheduled to last until the end of the year. 

During that time the UK will abide by EU rules while the future relationship between the UK and EU is negotiated.

For businesses that means very little will change.

Andy Stapley, chief executive of food manufacturer Macphie in Aberdeenshire, is looking for reassurances over trade tariffs.

“Uncertainty is the enemy of business and unfortunately there has been a huge amount of that,” he said.

“That’s been the biggest challenge that we have faced.  Business is good at planning for events.

“If there is no news of the deal until the very last minute, then in fact most businesses like us will be too late to be able to do anything really constructive around events were there to be a change in trade tariffs. 

“Clearly there is a timescale involved in raw materials coming in, production and raw materials going out so in order to really be able to plan for change business would require several months notice and I feel that is unlikely to happen.”

Stevens Scotland (Ltd) manufactures 250,000 blinds every year at its factory in Brechin.

“At least we know that we are leaving,” said chief executive Gavin Gray.

“I don’t think that necessarily removes any uncertainty because we don’t know what’s going to happen come the end of year, so really the horizon of the uncertainty has moved slightly, and that’s the way we’re looking at it.”

Brexit has also brought workforce-related issues for businesses around Scotland. 

The tourism industry says there were around 3500 fewer EU nationals working in the sector in Scotland last summer. 

Calum Ross is in his 12th season running the Loch Melfort Hotel with his wife.

During peak months, around a quarter of his staff are from overseas.

“We used to be queuing up and turning people away, whereas these days we feel lucky to have found somebody that we think can do the job,” he said.

“The decision to leave the EU and the actual leaving in some respects provides some clarity about what is actually happening, but the amount of uncertainty that still exists, the number of unanswered questions will still cause businesses like mine and others problems. 

“There is still no clarity on what the immigration policy will be when we get to the end of transition, absolutely no clarity at all.”

Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, says some businesses are having to cut their hours because of a lack of staff.

He said: “I was with a large hotel operator only this week who said lot of their European workforce have not returned after the festive period and they were expecting them back.

“On the basis they have chosen not to come back, I think it’s a warning sign for us all that we are not out of woods yet by any means. 

“Scotland is in desperate need of a workforce that can obviously serve the people that we want to cater for.”

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