Avoid a dog’s Brexit
What a hung parliament means for the furniture industry
NOW the dust has settled on the election, the British Furniture Confederation (BFC) is bracing itself to work with the newly formed government on behalf of the furniture and furnishing sector.
In the run up to the election, the BFC published an analysis of each of the party manifestos and compared them to our Furniture Industry Manifesto, which was issued late last year.
Coupled with this was our response to the Industrial Strategy Green Paper, published last April. Both documents sought to inform politicians by identifying the challenges facing the industry in the short-to-medium term. They pinpointed areas where government can work with the sector to overcome these challenges.
A recurring concern for the furniture and furnishing industry is the issue of foreign workers. The industry faces a shortage of skills across many disciplines, but particularly in manufacture. The sector currently relies heavily on foreign workers for these skills.
While there’s a clear need for a renewed focus on upskilling the UK workforce, the threat of a sudden drain of resources following Brexit would seriously hinder the industry. Efforts are being made to ramp-up resources for training and development through revived Trailblazer apprenticeships and training schemes. However, these need to be more comprehensive if they are to become effective within Brexit time-frames.
The weak currency continues to create cost pressures and potential inflationary price outcomes. The industry relies on significant proportions of imported components and materials in our manufacturing processes.
I’m no fan of the waste and unaccountability which prevails in Brussels, and it would be difficult to surmise that the recent Election outcome was a result of a vote against Brexit. However, it possibly indicates a vote against what people understood by a ‘hard’ Brexit versus a more business friendly ‘soft’ Brexit.
I don’t mean we should compromise on a strong negotiating stance in the pursuit of genuine trading benefits, yet we must not ‘cut our nose off to spite our face’.
Encouragingly, as a result of the Brexit vote, our Industry is growing its exports and looking for fresh markets outside the EU. While this can only be a good thing, our ability to continue to trade with our current largest market should remain a priority.
Nobody is suggesting this should be negotiated at any cost. The weak fall-back position to a WTO tariff must surely encourage both sides to reach a sensible accommodation.
We are, after all, a significant net importer with a thumping great trade deficit to prove it! I’m hopeful a more business-friendly team in government will begin to support our design-led manufacturing industries correctly as we enter the era of Industry 4:0.
The BFC looks forward to working with MPs and peers across the house to ensure the views of the British furniture industry is fully represented in parliament in the years to come.