Businesses attending last week’s Greater Manchester Chamber Spring Assembly heard about the ongoing problems still affecting huge numbers of businesses trading with the EU following the start of new rules on 1st January.
In the three months since a dedicated support helpline was set up by the Chamber, over 500 businesses have been in touch asking for help and clarity on the increasingly complex rules that all have to now follow as a result of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement.
In addition to problems around the new VAT rules, extra forms that need completing and goods being held up in customs due to incorrect licences and paperwork; many firms are now facing issues about staff travelling to the EU for work purposes.
As more problems seem to be added into an already complex picture, the danger is that the recent signs of economic optimism and early roots of a recovery could be hit by international trade problems. The Chamber’s Q1 Economic Survey showed that whilst domestic sales and orders were up international activity was sluggish and still in negative territory.
And despite extra funding from government for more training and support, the feeling is that more is needed and must be delivered to front-line organisations dealing with the problems on a daily basis.
Chris Fletcher, Policy Director at Greater Manchester Chamber, said: “The numbers of businesses asking for help and the scale of enquiries show no sign of slowing down anytime soon. If anything the potential is for them to increase further.
“It is quite clear that the rules, such as they are, are not clear and open to misinterpretation. We have heard from several businesses who have had goods held up overseas at the final leg before they get released to customers due to local interpretation of what forms, certification and licenses are needed. Some goods get through others don’t, it’s little short of a lottery.
“Experienced and long-established exporters have been in touch asking for clarity on rules and procedures as the information on the government website is, at best, vague and we have had to really dig deep to find answers to their queries.
“The new SME Brexit Fund from the government has gone down well and our training courses are all booked up but more needs doing. It isn’t enough for government to let businesses sort it out for themselves – what we are dealing with here is a hugely complex series of processes, paperwork and procedures that are adding time and costs to what were very simple, established trade transactions.
“The danger is that as the economy starts to ‘reopen’ and things pick up, the impact of these problems with what is still our largest trading partner may start to act as a brake on growth. This is completely avoidable, but only if government starts to treat this seriously and getting more help out to organisations such as ourselves that are in prime position to deal directly with businesses and bring our experience to help them start trading effectively once again.”