Out in the Cold – NI Businesses ‘don’t have the information they need to prepare for Brexit’

Out in the Cold – NI Businesses ‘don’t have the information they need to prepare for Brexit’

With less just weeks until the end of the transition period, a new survey from the Northern Ireland Business Brexit Working Group (NIBBWG) has revealed the fact that less than one in five Northern Irish businesses are prepared for the end of the transition period in four weeks’ time, with a lack of information cited as their biggest concern.

The survey, which took place between the 18th and 20th of November, posed a series of key Brexit-related questions to more than 250 members of Northern Ireland’s fourteen leading business organisations. Respondents spanned businesses of all sizes across the breadth of the NI economy, including crucial sectors like retail, manufacturing, haulage, agri-food and drink, and construction.

Key findings

Businesses are not ready for what is expected to be implemented 1 January 2021. Fewer than 1 in 5 respondents considered themselves prepared for the end of the transition period.The main reason for a lack of preparedness is a lack of clear information and guidance. The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and a lack of resources were also cited as limiting factors. The vast majority of respondents purchase products from GB, which makes them directly impacted by new arrangements to be put in place from 1 January 2021

Almost 9 in 10 respondents were aware of the Trader Support Service (TSS), which is designed to help businesses export goods between GB and NI. Over 70% of respondents have registered for the TSS, although only a third had advised their GB suppliers to do the same. The message about registering for the TSS appears to have had good penetration with NI businesses.

Genuine concern

There is genuine concerns about a lack of training, lack of detailed examples, lack of supporting materials, and lack of time were also expressed. Taken in aggregate, this shows a degree of scepticism that the scheme represents a substantial ‘step’ for business preparation .

A spokesperson for the NIBBWG said “From the survey responses, it’s clear that a substantial information gap is limiting the ability of businesses in Northern Ireland to prepare for a January 1st deadline. For IT systems to be up and running, without any significant hitches, represents a herculean task and one which would normally involve a phased introduction over a prolonged period of time, some require over a year – not a small number of working days.

“To combat these concerns, it is the view of the NIBBWG that an implementation period, agreed between the UK and EU, should be implemented to ensure that trade can continue without disruption in the short-term. This would protect businesses and supply, giving them time to properly adjust  to new procedures. This adjustment period must be used wisely to find proper solutions to make trade sustainable rather than just creating another cliff edge

Clear messaging

The survey also highlighted the need for a clear messaging campaign targeted at GB suppliers to Northern Ireland, where there is far less understanding of the Trader Support Service. This would help build confidence around continued ease of trade with Northern Ireland.

The report also recommends that there must be a way to continue the just in time supply chain not only for moving goods from GB-NI but for moving goods via Dublin to GB, otherwise supply chains will not work which then makes business in Northern Ireland less competitive. The group also asks that the EU and UK Government create more confidence in how to trade in or with Northern Ireland  by  designing easy to follow modelling so that different sectors and industries can at glance understand the steps they need to undertake to trade.

Retail Movement System

The spokesperson continued “ We are still waiting to get confirmation if there will be a Retail Movement System which will remove friction and keep prices affordable for Northern Ireland households and farmers  are still waiting for  delivery on the commitment for a dedicated Agri Food Movement Assistance Scheme to assist with SPS requirements but the details are still unknown. We are still waiting even to find out if Northern Ireland can be part of EU trade deals which are crucial to our dairy sector. This lack of detail is stopping businesses from farmers to SMEs to our largest NI  organisations being able to plan for next year.

“With just a few weeks left, we need both sides to live up to their commitments to the people of Northern Ireland, and ensure that a workable solution for families and businesses can be delivered.”