The news just keeps rolling in and the rules that govern our daily lives keep changing. It’s bad enough for families, but how are businesses expected to plan for the future – especially SMEs struggling to survive the here and now, never mind find the time to dream up grand strategies for a future so riddled with uncertainty? Hopefully, the new vaccines will have COVID on the ropes before too long, but the likely outcome of Brexit negotiations remains anyone’s guess. Small wonder that everyone outside of Government (maybe inside, too) is confused.
A recent survey conducted by The Manufacturer found that nearly half the respondents (47%) had no idea how Brexit will affect their business. The Manufacturing Barometer – used to help shape Government’s industrial policy – found that, despite the ravages of the pandemic, 28% of businesses had managed to increase sales between April and September this year, and that 40% were predicting growth over the next six months. But 62% were trading at pre-pandemic levels, and a quarter of those taking part reckon it will take between one and five years to get back to normal.
Rishi Sunak’s subsequent Spending Review statement on November 25 did not pull any punches, either. He told us that the UK economy is likely to shrink by 11.3% this year and that probably it will take until Q4 2022 before we are back at pre-pandemic levels.
The new measures he announced focused on combating the effects of COVID by borrowing eye-watering amounts of money to support the NHS, prop up struggling business sectors, deprived regions and to provide some help to the unemployed and poorly paid. Increased spending on infrastructure, education, workplace training and furthering the green agenda were also part of the mix.
Yes, all good stuff, but what about Brexit – as I write, it will be upon us in only a few weeks’ time? We have known it was coming down the track since long before the pandemic darkened the sky. And it is still there as the great unknown factor. Our burgeoning online retailers won’t have to worry too much, but what about the manufacturers and engineers trying to export to overseas customers and compete with their international rivals?
I suppose we could panic, but that’s never been a solution. Instead, ambitious companies like UnitBirwelco have been quietly using this period of uncertainty to reset their businesses by investing in technology, modern equipment and people (including apprentices). Whatever the future holds, we know for sure that being better, faster and more efficient will always stand us in good stead.