South West businesses uncertain and sceptical as Brexit approaches

The Brexit process is leaving businesses in the South West reluctant to plan for growth, uncertain about their futures and feeling abandoned by central Government, a new study has shown.

Researchers at the University of Plymouth conducted a series of interviews and focus groups to provide a unique picture of the Brexit pressures facing the region.

Over several months, they spoke to business, local government and charity leaders, covering industries from transport to tourism, fishing to farming.

The hope was that having a clearer understanding of the challenges could help to provide a collective means of helping to overcome some of the specific issues being faced.

The findings, published in a report released today, reveal the continued lack of national clarity over Brexit – and in particular the prospect of a no deal – is causing great uncertainty among the region’s businesses and making potential trading partners difficult to find.

A lack of targeted guidance and support from central Government is also exacerbating that uncertainty, particularly for the hundreds of small businesses across the South West.

The report does reveal some sectors, such as professional services, have been largely insulated from any negative impacts and certain groups, including tourism and hospitality, which are more positive about the potential opportunities Brexit may bring.

However, there is general scepticism over the ability of the UK to benefit from any opportunities for new trading relationships that may emerge from Brexit, and a call for proactive strategies to develop an understanding of potential trading partners and the need for long-term relationships.

Many of those spoken to also feared Brexit would exacerbate existing economic and social problems, with significant concerns over its impact on the labour market and workforce relations.

The report was written by Professor Richard Saundry, Associate Lecturer Michele Fox and Dr Patrick Holden and makes a series of key recommendations, including:

  • The UK needs to develop a more proactive approach to international trade by providing the negotiating skills, regional knowledge, culture of openness and cultural know-how that will help UK business forge positive relationships with international customers and partners;
  • Advice and guidance over Brexit needs to be much more targeted and precise;
  • Dialogue between public, private, third sector and community organisations in the South West needs to be encouraged and closer understandings developed;
  • Organisations need to place social impact and good work at the centre of their concerns while large employers can act as mentors and exemplars within their communities and supply chains;
  • Organisations need to prioritise the development of negotiation skills and other people-related capabilities which will help businesses build positive relationships with new customers and clients, underpin more collaborative relationships between key stakeholders, and deepen employee engagement and productivity

Dr Holden, Associate Professor (Reader) in International Relations and an expert in the workings of the European Union, said:

“Brexit has been dominating the national agenda for more than three years, but the uncertainty on almost every level is obviously very much still in evidence. It is no surprise to find that being mirrored within the South West, but our research has shown the extent to which it is impacting on organisations’ future plans, aspirations and workforces.

“The impact of this could be significant, not just for individual businesses and sectors, but also for the region and those living and working within it. Therefore, if the South West is to deal with the immediate challenge of Brexit and go on to prosper in the longer term, economic, civil society and political institutions need to communicate frankly with each other and cooperate.”

The iSPER Brexit Series

Since the British public voted to leave the European Union, there has been widespread conjecture as governments across Europe and beyond try to assess the political and social ramifications of the result. 

As such, policy makers face a number of challenges in light of the increased responsibility placed on them – as areas of legislation previously under EU competence will soon be decided nationally.

In this project led by the Institute for Social, Policy and Enterprise Research (iSPER) leading academics across a range of fields attempt to shed light on how the referendum result might affect their areas of expertise.

Find out more about The iSPER Brexit Series

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