Don’t wait for Brexit

David Hibbert advises the flooring industry not to procrastinate when it comes to Brexit

B REXIT means Brexit. Couldn’t be clearer. But then came the Brexit derivatives: Hard Brexit, soft Brexit, cliff-edge Brexit. And of course, there’s no shortage of commentary to go alongside these fashionable labels. Everybody is happy to give their tuppence worth about what each of them will mean.

No doubt, each commentator will have their own agenda, which certainly won’t be the same as yours.

The one thing that business likes is certainty and slow change. The one thing the media hates is certainty and slow change. It doesn’t make good news and doesn’t sell newspapers or get people tuning in to news reports.

With something like Brexit, that is moving at a snail’s pace, and with nothing concrete to report, the best thing to do for a news outlet is get somebody, ‘an expert’, to make a prediction.
But they have no more idea than you or me.

The truth is nobody knows what will happen when (or even if) Brexit finally happens. And that’s the point. Nobody knows what the future holds. You never do, regardless if there’s a Brexit or other world-changing event in the offing.

For example, in May 2015 when David Cameron produced a surprise win for the Tory party, who would have predicted that only two and a half years later we’d have voted to leave the EU, seen Boris Johnson named foreign secretary, witnessed Donald Trump becoming president of the most powerful country in the world and held another general election resulting in the DUP holding the balance of power? (In fact, by the time this article appears in print, everything might have changed again.)

But Brexit is the issue having a profound effect on UK industry, including the flooring industry. More accurately it’s the talk around the issue that is causing the problems.

Predictions of gloom and doom: the City of London potentially upping sticks and moving to Brussels or Berlin, the Health Service collapsing because we can’t recruit enough foreign workers. Closer to home, the Construction Products Association has reported ‘pessimism’ among its members when asked about prospects for growth over the coming year – ‘despite healthy growth over the last quarter’.

The result of these negative opinions is an instinctive reaction by decisionmakers to do nothing: ‘We can’t make any plans until we know what’s going to happen, until we understand what Brexit really looks like.’

It’s always easier to do nothing than to decide to take a specific course of action, to leave things as they are than make a positive change, to procrastinate instead of getting on with it. But without a pending ‘gamechanger’ like Brexit, not making decisions is much harder to justify. With Brexit on the horizon, it’s easy, especially if everybody else is doing it.

So, is Brexit just a convenient excuse for holding back? What if Brexit means we face import tariffs to get our products into France or Germany? Are we all going to give up and close our businesses? Of course not, this is what we do and we’ll keep on doing it.

So, if that’s the case, why procrastinate? Why not make those decisions you’ve been putting off? Make the investments that are going to improve your business.

Take on apprentices you and the industry are going to need to be the next generation of floorlayers. Don’t be part of the problem, be one of the leaders that gets us back on track, despite some politicians’ and media commentators’ best endeavours to plant the seeds of doubt and fear into everybody.

The shape of our economy and our industry won’t suddenly become clear in 6-12 months’ time. Most likely it will be many years in the future before the impact Brexit has on us is fully known.

Even then, there are other things happening in the world that will affect things as well, so we’ll probably never precisely know what difference Brexit has really made to us.

The thing that will do more damage to the economy and the country and, closer to home, the flooring industry will be the inaction of each of us to press ahead with our plans.

When everybody holds back, the doom-mongers are proved right, even if the reason for the gloom and doom isn’t the result of Brexit, but the result of inactivity. Nothing moves, business reduces, companies stop investing. It’s a vicious circle.

On the positive side, companies looking to move forward and making investments for the future will be the real winners. They’ll have the skilled staff in place when all the others are scrabbling about trying to recruit.

They’ll be the ones who have invested in training or product development. They’ll be the ones who are seen to be proactive and the kind of people you want to work with. They’ll be the ones who are alive to new opportunities and able to quickly react to increased demand.

Whether you voted for Brexit or not, whether you think it’s a good idea or not, we are where we are. We all owe it to ourselves, and I would say our industry also, to create and make the most of our opportunities. And any help, resources, guidance or support that the CFA can provide are, as always, readily available to our members.
David Hibbert is president of the CFA