B-word-related uncertainties still dominate any business discussion, all the more so for entrepreneurs who have moved to the UK from Poland and set up their businesses here. It is clear that whatever the outcome (still very much up in the air at the time of going to press), how Brexit will affect your business depends in which sector you operate. And of course, what the outcome will be.
It is impossible to imagine any of the three scenarios actually coming to pass – the UK leaving without a deal, with all the chaos that this would create, the UK continuing to pay into the EU and accepting its rules without any say, or reneging on the referendum result. All appear politically impossible.
This state of affairs hasn’t changed since 23 June 2016, and as a result many business decisions have been put on hold or else – in the absence of any hard fact – firms are carrying on as usual, not making any plans because nothing is certain. Yet it’s worth setting aside a few hours to do some strategic planning, to consider how the eventuality of a hard Brexit might affect the competitiveness of your business. This should be based on analysis of your market position, your dependence on cross-Channel supply chains, on Polish (or other EU-national) labour, and on your competitors.
If you are trading goods, do you know the HS/SITC code of the products you deal with? Do you know what tariffs they would face should the UK drop out of the single European market on the basis of WTO rules? How much extra paperwork would you have to deal with – country-of-origin certificates, VAT, new regulations? How you’ll deal with logistics in a new situation that’s far from frictionless?
If your competitors are currently importing products from outside the EU, they are dealing with all the extra hassle that will suddenly face you after a hard Brexit. If, on the other hand, your competitors are importing from Germany, Holland or France, they will face exactly the same challenges and extra costs as you. Adjusting to new conditions will not be easy – time will be spent with new requirements, diverging regulations and form-filling that’s better spent developing new business.
Whatever the final outcome, new business opportunities will emerge for those quick and flexible enough to spot them. Again, if you hadn’t considered what these might be, it’s time to do so!
Those of us who were at our first congress, back in 2014, will remember the DueDil/Centre for Entrepreneurs report into foreign-born entrepreneurs in the UK, which showed for the first time the number and the influence of businesses started by Poles on the British economy. It is clear that anyone who has the energy, courage and determination to leave their home country for a new one – plus of course capacity for hard work – is going to be an asset to their host economy. Newcomers to the UK are twice as likely to set up a business as native-born Brits. Yet Britain’s retreat from Europe suggests that the openness that characterised its economy for centuries should not be taken for granted. Britain’s economy is growing at a far slower pace than it would have, had it not chosen such a course; when planning your business’s future, consider all options; this takes time but pays dividends.
At the opposite end of the EU, the Polish economy continues to boom, with growth of around 5% expected this year. New opportunities are opening up that were not there just a few years ago; with record low unemployment (only Czechia can boast lower unemployment among EU member states), Poland is becoming more attractive for Poles considering a return to their homeland. When Poland joined the EU, unemployment was at a record high. The past decade and a half have seen phenomenal growth across the country – not just in the big cities. This means more opportunities to sell to Poles, now much wealthier as consumers than they have ever been before.
The BPCC’s Get Connected with Poland programme has been set up to encourage and support British firms to enter the Polish market. [see http://bpcc.org.pl/en/get-connected-with-poland] Our membership network of over 300 firms across Poland includes many B2B service providers with deep knowledge and many contacts that may prove beneficial to your firm if you are thinking of extending your supply chain or outsourcing back to Poland. The ties between Poland and the UK are too deep and valuable to both economies to cut; whatever the outcome of Brexit, there will always be Poles living in the UK, owning businesses and property in the UK, and goods and services will always be traded between the two countries. There may be a steep contraction should we face a hard Brexit, many businesses may not survive the fall out, but the relationship between our two countries will abide.
Michael Dembinski, chief advisor, British Polish Chamber of Commerce (BPCC)