What steps can be taken to continue the manufacturing renaissance in the uncertain times of Britain’s departure from the EU?

The triggering of Article 50 means that the UK has taken the first formal step in leaving the EU. With its passing, and as negotiations progress, we can hope for greater clarity about how the UK will continue to trade with the EU and the world in general. Manufacturing businesses involved in will not be any different.

First quarter data from the Office of National Statistics show that manufacturing is performing well in comparison to other sectors. Growth generally means jobs, and the number of jobs available could grow further if EU citizens are hesitant to come and work in the UK without guarantees relating to their rights as workers. In the short term this may be positive for UK citizens. However, if there is a dearth of suitable employees in the long term then this potential skills shortage could hinder manufacturing’s ability to grow at the pace it has recently.

In terms of manufacturing, supply chains are critical. If these supply chains have a European reach then manufacturing businesses will be eager to see what trade agreements will be forthcoming. The different styles of possible trade agreements vary in degree and complexity ranging from the EEA model, currently used for example by Norway and Liechtenstein, to a free trade agreement in which the UK could have a standalone agreement with the EU (as well as other nations). There are both costs and benefits to the different agreements. Some offer access for goods but not services, others provide for free movement of people, and some require laws to be harmonised with the EU. As it stands, however, everything is up for negotiation and it is the Government’s responsibility to agree the best trade deal it can for UK businesses.

All in all, the decision to leave the EU and the two year negotiating period that has begun with the triggering of Article 50 will create a changeable future, not least in the manufacturing sector.

This may appear a relatively bleak outlook, but it need not be. Steps can be taken now to make the future more manageable for manufacturing businesses. Below I outline how your business can begin to navigate through these uncertain times.

Assessment of Business:

  • Consider subsidiaries located in the UK or EU member states and their reliance on their access to particular markets and within which legal jurisdictions they work.
  • Examine your supply chains and identify potential areas where tariffs or other trade barriers may emerge.
  • Reflect on where your business is situated in the supply chain and how your suppliers and customers may be affected.
  • Think about how fluctuations in the value of sterling may increase or decrease costs of different areas of your business.

Identify Issues:

  • In the light of the assessment the business should identify its strengths and weaknesses.
  • The business should then determine the most significant risks and opportunities arising out of the above assessment.

Mitigation:

  • Could corporate policies or processes be amended based on the identified issues?
  • Is there potential to expand or condense the corporate structure to implement any opportunities that may have been identified?
  • Would strengths be consolidated and weaknesses minimised by buying or selling certain assets?

There is no denying that there are uncertain times ahead. However, by taking active steps now manufacturing businesses will be in a position to deal competently and efficiently with the political decisions in the future.