A ‘one minute till midnight’ Brexit debate, held as part of the influential annual Richmond Supply Chain Forum, has delivered a damning indictment of government prevarication. Delegates revealed very few of the companies represented have been able to invest significantly in Brexit measures because no one knows what form it will take; and that at least a third of major companies are holding back on investment until there is more certainty.
The debate took place on 28 March, the day before the UK was supposed to leave the EU, at The Belfry, Birmingham. The panel heard from delegates that, while businesses could plan successfully for major potential disruptions such as Y2K, because they knew the nature of the problem, they are unable to properly plan for Brexit because they still have no idea whether it will be hard, soft or even happen at all.
Chairing the debate was David Jinks MILT, head of Consumer Research at international delivery experts ParcelHero. He reveals: ‘Logistics professionals rightly pride themselves on their adaptability and problem-solving abilities. But both our expert panel and the delegates from many of Britain’s leading exporters and retailers were shocked that our carefully timed “11th hour” debate was suddenly more an “11th week” debate following Brexit’s dramatic rescheduling until April 12 or May 22 or beyond! Panellists and audience alike agreed that business can plan for all forms of Brexit, from no deal to May’s deal to a Customs Union; but what they cannot plan for is ongoing uncertainty.’
Says David: ‘There was a frank and fascinating discussion between the panel and delegates about what measures industry has taken so far to mitigate the impact of Brexit. Contrary to accepted wisdom, our panel revealed stockpiling is not taking place on any significant scale, with only a handful of large warehouse deals being signed with Brexit storage in mind. Delegates and panellist agreed most supermarkets and food retailers would find stockpiling even a week’s supplies of perishable products extremely expensive, ineffective and disruptive to existing supply chains.’
Concludes David: ‘Our debate highlighted one key take-away: supply chain leaders can cope with anything and everything that is thrown at them, but it’s impossible to make plans if you don’t know what will be thrown or even if it ever will be. It’s up to parliament to stop prevaricating and get behind Teresa May’s deal or one of the alternative proposals now, before UK businesses suffer serious damage.’
Joining David on the Brexit debate panel were Ian Ferguson: head of Supply Chain at Iceland; Neil Gould: representing the Chartered Institute of Logistics & Transport and a director at Braid; Kevin Mofid: director, Commercial Research, Savills, and Alex Veitch: head of Multimodal policy at the Freight Transport Association.