Last year, Brexit meant Brexit, we were told. It was red, white or blue – sometimes black or grey, often hard or soft, depending on who you asked.
This year hasn’t been much better. While the government has been thrashing out the details in Brussels, the opposition remains taciturn, in a state of EU-purgatory.
“Fake news” may have been Collins Dictionary’s word of the year, but in the business world, there’s no doubt it was “uncertainty”. For our Leap 100 firms, approaching 2018, Brexit uncertainty is ringing in their ears.
“I think the uncertainty around Brexit is causing serious concern among consumers,” says one. “And I, like many others, am holding off on spending as much as possible, as we don’t know what the future holds.”
“Growing Brexit uncertainty” was named as the single greatest concern by a staggering 61 per cent of the firms in our December poll. “This has been a year of never-ending uncertainty. 2018 cannot be the same,” is a sentiment shared by the more pessimistic among the fast growth companies.
Others, such as Philip Ellis, chief operating officer at Blaze, while concerned, are more sanguine.
“Brexit uncertainty in and of itself is a major frustration, but it can be mitigated through good planning and proactive engagement with customers, particularly those overseas,” he says.
While Blaze’s own affairs are in-hand, its faith in the government’s approach is far from surefire. “It appears,” says the firm, that central government departments are “completely at sea, and unable to deliver against their mandates due to overriding confusion, concern, and borderline panic at how they will work post-Brexit”.
The Brexit doomsaying continues from our Leap 100 companies. The next highest concern on their list is a direct product of the apparent uncertainty: access to talent took the silver medal.
One solace for the government, which claims to be prioritising business throughout the negotiations, is that when asked whether being denied Single Market access would make them consider retrenching, excluding the “don’t knows”, over 70 per cent answered “no”. Although, the fact that 30 per cent would – and one is seriously considering doing so– should certainly prick a few ears in Westminster.
In the interest of balance, it must be noted that, while six options were listed on this poll, only one related directly to the UK’s decision to Leave the EU. Regardless, most of the respondents managed to align the bulk of their responses with Brexit.
For example, for scaleups, access to capital is paramount, regardless of political fluctuations. But Brexit is still exacerbating finance concerns for a handful of the Leap companies.
“Our single greatest concern is the deterioration of confidence in the investment market as a result of stalling Brexit negotiations,” says Nicholas Ford, director of Heartier. “If there is a lack of consumer confidence, the investment community may hold tight until there is more clarity, which might stifle our ability to expand.”
One thing is clear amid the uncertainty. Despite clarity on EU citizens rights, the Irish border, and the money we owe, as the UK moves on to brokering a trade deal with the bloc, Leap 100 firms haven’t a clue what the future holds. Here’s to hoping the government does.