Small businesses face crippling costs and post-Brexit bureaucracy hurdles
According to a survey by the Financial Times, UK companies trading with Europe continue to face a difficult period due to post-Brexit bureaucracy.
The issues apply to those wishing to work in EU countries as well as those importing and exporting goods. Russell Antram, head of European trade at the CBI, said the multiplicity of rules in 27 countries was “a real challenge for the biggest of HR departments, let alone small businesses”.
“As virus restrictions are removed, the complexity facing businesses becomes clearer,” he said. “It is essential that the UK and individual EU member states make progress in bilateral talks to ease the restrictions.”
William Bain, head of trade policy at the UK Chambers of Commerce, said the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (ATT) contained more than 1,000 restrictions on cross-border trade in services.
Under the ATT, UK citizens can travel visa-free to the EU and stay there for up to 90 days in any 180-day period, but this does not necessarily include the right to work.
Sally Stephenson, who runs a stationery and school uniform business in Cowbridge, spoke to us for the first time last year about the huge problems she has faced importing supplies since the UK left the single market and the customs union.
She told us: “I am currently in negotiation with one of my main suppliers of school uniforms because prices have increased astronomically since last year.
“They go up in April, then in May, and again in June! Part of that is due to rising energy prices and the war in Ukraine, but most of the price increase has happened since before Christmas and I’m sure it’s Brexit related .
“Stock is still subject to fairly high minimum order values before European suppliers ship anything to us. Earlier my account manager from Depesche was here, placing our next quarterly order of coloring books and d children’s stickers, toys and gifts, to be shipped directly from their warehouse in Germany.
“The minimum order value is now £1,000 – it used to be £250, but it’s just not viable anymore for them to send orders to the UK for less than £1,000.
“It’s frustrating as we have £900 worth of out of stock goods which are now available and ready to ship but they won’t release it until we’ve ordered at least £1000.
“In the past they would have been sent to us automatically as soon as there was £250 available.”
Ms Stephenson said there were three issues with this: ‘Cashflow – obviously we have to pay a lot of money all at once now instead of paying for smaller, more frequent orders spread over the year.
“Secondly, as Depesche waits for us to reach the magic £1,000 threshold, the goods we had previously ordered out of stock, so that we would have our name on the waiting list, came into stock, but because that we haven’t reached £1000 yet, they have been sent to other customers instead.
“These lines are sold out again and we missed something.
“In the past we could easily have gotten back orders of up to £250 and they would have sent the products straight to us as soon as they were in stock.
“Thirdly, our ranges are no longer updated as regularly as they once were, so our customers don’t have as many new products to choose from as they once did.
“Then there is a risk that they won’t buy anything at all and leave disappointed. I had exactly that on Saturday – a customer came by and asked if I had had anything new since Christmas, as her granddaughter had gotten all of our horse-themed coloring books for Christmas.
“She knew that if we had had new stock since January, her granddaughter wouldn’t already have it and she would have been confident to buy. But because of the out-of-stock situation, and because we’re not ordering more than every quarter we got nothing new – so she didn’t buy anything and I lost a sale.
“This is what life is like outside the single market and customs union.
“Anyone surprised either didn’t pay attention or fell for the lies of Johnson and others.”
A spokesman for the Department for International Trade claimed that the ATT contained some of the “most far-reaching provisions on trade in services ever adopted by the EU”.
“With the support of the Export Helpdesk, expanded Export Academies and a landmark export strategy, we ensure that businesses of all sizes have the support they need to trade effectively with the world. ‘Europe.”