BQ Yorkshire Editor Mike Hughes looks at the EU vote and what is now needed.
Running a company in Yorkshire involves many challenges, but trading from outside the EU probably wasn’t on anyone’s list of potential issues. But the nation has spoken and here we are – preparing to look inside from outside for the first time since 1 January 1973. It is a groundbreaking new era for every business large or small and some will fall by the wayside as exchange rates twist and turn and the safety net of a perceived but largely non-existent collaboration is removed.
But this is now our new landscape and so many times before in Yorkshire change has come at us with frightening speed and we have coped. We have taken the hit, regrouped and made the most of our new surroundings and you will now see us do it all over again.
The understandable fear comes from not knowing anything other than the EU. BQ deals with so many Yorkshire firms who were born under EU rule and have now been given a freedom they are not sure they want. But just because we have always had Europe’s crutches doesn’t mean we can’t stand tall without them.
There is formidable industrial firepower in this inspiring county, enough to take on the world, and that is what we now need to do - again. The only option for true Yorkshire entrepreneurs is to let the dust settle, have a pint and a pie and start work. Here we ask some of BQ’s finest to give us their opinion of a vote for change.
Dominic Colenso is a former film and TV actor who now runs In Flow Training, which teaches teamwork, leadership and presentation skills to individuals and businesses. He told BQ Yorkshire: “I was surprised by it and it certainly throws up a lot of challenges for businesses with the level of uncertainty it has created.
“As a service provider, some things are going to go down on people’s list of priorities now until we get a better sense of where we are going. But in these sorts of times communication is more important than ever because when we are leading people through change we need to be clear on our intentions, so after the initial shock, there is opportunity here for us to build bridges and turn the uncertainty into a positive.”
As an expert in presentation skills, Dominic was interested in the Cameron exit speech on the steps of Number Ten.
“I thought ‘wow, what a difficult message to have to deliver’ but he did a very good job. It was a very human speech in which you could see the clear emotion. It was balanced and conciliatory and I take my hat off to him for restraining that emotion.”
Adam Cox, owner and MD of Cavendish Pianos at Bolton Abbey, was “surprised and worried” by the decision. “Turmoil is a very big word - I have spoken to a lot of business people and we can’t see how it will affect us directly.
I have just returned from the Euros and saw Sweden play Belgium and Iceland play Hungary and there was a lot of talk about Brexit from a real cross-section of people. Everyone there thought it would be madness for the UK to leave.
“There might be some positives, like house prices coming down for the next generation
and maybe we could even get a handle on the big corporate tax-avoiders.
“But this will take years to come through, so it is very difficult for businesses to say whether their situation will be worse, better or the same.”
Freya Bass (right), the 25-year-old entrepreneur who runs the Handbag Spa which cleans, restores and refurbishes luxury goods, said her whole team in Harrogate was shocked by what had happened, but she was still in a confident mood.
“I voted Remain and we were all pretty sure that was what would happen so I think it is a sad day that we are not now united. “But we are British, so we will keep pressing on!”
Rowena Johnson runs two businesses, Bugbrush, which makes an infant-friendly toothbrush, and Essence of Peru, which sells handmade Peruvian clothing and goods. She was shocked by the decision to leave the EU.
“It was a horrendous morning and I was absolutely mortified,” she said.
“The economic impact across the UK is terrible and for me personally it is awful because I have my Bugbrush manufacture in China and the cost of buying that product has just gone up by ten per cent. Luckily I invoice a lot of customers in US dollars but the cost to the British customers of me getting the product over here has risen.
“Essence of Peru is an import business and I pay in US dollars, so the cost of all my stock has gone up. But we just have to take this all on board and put our prices up slightly just to absorb the hit.”
Joe Carnell is the entrepreneur behind the Ugot healthy eating brand, which was built on a background of multi-culturalism. He told BQY:
“For me it seemed obvious that we should remain, because I didn’t want to take a step in the wrong direction and brush aside all that we had achieved in the EU. But we now have to stay united and look forward to what will unravel over the next few months.
“Almost everything we use at Ugot is from within the UK, so that gives us a level of protection from the import and export implications, but we are looking to expand in Europe so we hope for some stability.”
Craig Benton is a serial entrepreneur and the director of the London Deli Company. For him, leaving the EU was the right decision.
“It was important for my company to look beyond the scaremongering and get to the facts and figures,” he said. “In a way there is a freedom now, but we don’t do much trade in Europe because we are already taxed and penalised so much for going across it with shipments and we still find a lot of anti-UK feeling out there. But there are opportunities there and I am still looking ahead with confidence. We have been moseying along for so long now with people banging the drum and complaining about certain issues - this is our chance to control those things.”
Dave Clarkson works with entrepreneurs throughout Yorkshire in his role as Business Development Director at Armstrong Watson on South Parade in Leeds. He voted to leave, but was still shocked by the result.
“I am not speaking on behalf of the business, but I have seen clients upping their orders before the Brexit decision and others saying that after a few days it won’t make any difference at all.
“There is the immediate shock of the enormity of what has happened, but the real instinct inside me is that we have two years of transition yet to take everything in and know what we are looking at.
“Our job now is to help our clients make some sense out of it and plan to move forward. The vast majority of people we deal with are not there because of handouts from the EU, they are entrepreneurial businesses who have been through highs and lows before.
“My main reason for voting out is that if I create a new product, I have to go to the European market who will tell me how much they will pay and that they only want 200 anyway. I don’t want anyone dictating to me at what price I can sell something to other people.
“We will now have a free market again and I think that is a refreshing change and positive for a lot of businesses.”
Jamie Robinson works with his brothers Ashley and Nick in their Keighley-based nursery product design firm Bababing! He said:
“Personally, I am always a glass half-full person, but I have been desperate to export Bababing! products into Europe, but they have been very protective of their borders even though we consume far more from them than they ever consume from us.
“There are people in all this who may be more educated than me, but make things far more complicated. Business can be relatively simple – if I have a product that I think is good enough I can take it wherever I want in the world and if they want it, they can buy it whether we are in or out.”
Roger Hutton is joint managing partner with Clarion Law in Leeds and was among many who thought that staying in was better for trade and the economy generally.
“The landscape has been completely changed and there is now a new set of winners and losers,” he said.
“Some of my clients will think this is a great result and others will fear a very negative impact in their businesses and their employees. There is a complete unknown about the stability of the country for the next few months, so I was so disappointed that there was no coherent argument from Corbyn or Cameron that anyone could understand. In the end I think the vast majority of the vote was one of emotion rather than reason, which is perhaps not the best way for the future of the country to be determined.
“From a lawyer in Leeds you will get two things happening – you will get a lot of people retrenching through a lack of confidence and a raft of opportunistic people who will grab some wins from the chaos and uncertainty.
“It will certainly mean Clarion being a lot busier helping people cope with the change and as a law firm, there will also be a whole set of new legislation changing on a regular basis and it will be part of our game to get up to speed with that and understand the ramifications.
“From a very personal point of view, I think of my daughter growing up with her own family in 20, 30 or 40 years’ time and whether she will be living on an island that is strategically isolated and doesn’t have the global clout it used to have.”