Inside Business

Business leaders demand action to ease the pain of Brexit

Companies in the UK are suffering under the strain of red tape and piling paperwork, but E2Exchange is giving the best of the business sector a voice, writes Chris Blackhurst

Friday 14 June 2024 09:31 BST
Brexit continued to be a dominant theme in politics in 2021 (Jonathan Brady/PA)
Brexit continued to be a dominant theme in politics in 2021 (Jonathan Brady/PA) (PA Archive)

Only occasionally in this general election campaign has the “B” word surfaced. It did the other evening, to great furore, on BBC’s Question Time. Generally, though, it is not somewhere politicians want to tread. As far as public political discussions are concerned, our exit from the EU and its aftermath are off-limits.

Not so, among the business community. At the launch of the E2Exchange or E2E, International Track 100 for 2024, feelings about Brexit ran high. All the members of the online panel assembled for the occasion and drawn from the Track 100, lacked one good word to say about the UK’s departure.

In association with The Independent, E2E, the business networking and mentoring organisation, has published the definitive index of the 100 private businesses in the UK experiencing the greatest export growth. The list is based on their annual results over the past three years.

It’s the second such Track 100 to be produced this year. The first was Female 100, covering companies founded by women. In all, six league tables will be published, covering different categories, including profitability and job creation. The tracks are independently compiled by Go Live Data and Experian.

In this ranking, top was Prax Petroleum, which enjoyed astonishing exports and sales growth of 1,411 per cent. Second was another fuels company, Argent Energy, on 1,300 per cent. Third came OS Phoenix HoldCo, which offers ESG solutions, helping businesses with their waste and recycling management. Its exports were up 8.07 per cent. Wine supplier Boutinot came fourth with exports sales having risen 724 per cent.

The five-strong panel was comprised of the heads of firms from the list plus Dhaval Patel from Universal Partners, the payment solutions provider. From the off, the discussion was lively. Two themes quickly emerged: the difficulty of trading with the EU; and the rise of the UAE as an international business hub.

Simon La Fosse, founder and chairman of technology recruiter La Fosse Associates, went so far as to call for another referendum on EU membership. Others nodded their agreement. Among them was Ed Gillett, creator of CharterSync, which marries freight-forwarders with airlines handling air cargo. Gillett said: “Pre-Brexit we could move aircraft without delay; now, with all the paperwork required, it takes 48 hours. This has a major impact, for example on just-in-time supply chains – say they’re relying on automobile parts; the whole production is left waiting for them to arrive. Previously, we never saw competition from road freight, now there is, as it can be just as quick to send a part by road as by air.”

Before the UK departed, all that was needed to cover the whole of the EU was one docket. Now, every member of the EU requires their own forms to be filled in before goods can be transported.

Jaitej Walia, director of JT Argo, the crop protection supplier, said: “It’s very tough, doing business between the UK and Europe. I wish Brexit had never happened.” He was considering relocating his head office to Ireland, which is in the EU, to use that country as a gateway to the bloc.

Taking advantage and moving up fast, they agreed, was the UAE. It was bending over backwards to accommodate foreign businesses. Mr Patel remarked how determined UAE was to make doing business there as easy as possible.

The UAE is welcoming foreign businesses and benefiting greatly from them
The UAE is welcoming foreign businesses and benefiting greatly from them (Getty)

Mr Walia was more forthright: “They need to execute a better trade deal with the EU. Even if we don’t have a referendum, we should at least get a better deal with the EU.”

Adam Herbert, co-founder of Go Live Data, the Manchester-based data agency, said greater focus had to be devoted to “closing the skills gap. What we want in terms of skills, and what we can get, are far apart. First, we have to find good people, then we have to train them for two years. Much more has to be done in this area.” Ed Gillett agreed, saying: “There is a big bottleneck where recruitment is concerned.”

Simon La Fosse was worried that “one of the unintended consequences of exiting the EU was that previously, 40 per cent of the founders of tech companies came from the EU. They’d chosen to come to the UK, now we’ve made it more difficult for them to come and the UK has become less attractive. If you think about the value creation they brought and the employment they created, their loss is massive. I fear we’re becoming less competitive as a country.”

Each panel member was asked for one wish from the new government.

“I am hoping for a free and open market,” said Ed Gillett.

Adam Herbert was looking for the “empowerment of small businesses, making tax reductions such as VAT”.

Mr Patel also chose taxes. “Lower the tax rates for businesses. Not only would it attract more foreign investment, but it would also stop companies leaving. We’ve a lot of clients who are heading to the UAE.”

Mr La Fosse craved “greater focus on economic growth.”

Mr Walia sought “more funding in every department”, adding, “Politicians are too far away from business and consumers. They really should try and see what life is like.”

It was a good session, providing plenty of food for thought. If only, those political leaders had signed up to E2E and were able to watch and listen. They might have learned something.

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