UK executives at mid-size firms see life outside the EU opening new doors to growth
Brexit has presented British companies with unprecedented challenges. Yet even as they await the terms of our departure from the European Union, business leaders display a remarkable determination to succeed, whatever the outcome.
“Despite the Brexit shock, many foreign investors still see Britain as a safe haven”
Our own survey of business leaders suggests that they remain optimistic about a future outside the European Union, despite current economic headwinds. We asked 500 executives across seven business sectors to share their outlook. We found that almost three out of four believe that Brexit will be good for their business, and for the economy as a whole. Almost 90 per cent are making plans to grow their business. Despite an apparently uncertain outlook, employers told us that they are investing for the future, developing new systems and products, recruiting the most promising talent, and expanding their marketing initiatives.
Reasons to be cheerful?
There are several, interconnected reasons why this might be. In the first instance, this is the generation of chief executive and senior managers whose experience is rooted in the financial crisis of a decade ago. They have worked through one of the biggest shocks to the banking system and a deep recession, and have come out the other side. To them, Brexit is just another challenge.
Businesses that weathered that financial storm are lean and mean. They are financially robust and managed prudently, as if the next crisis might just be around the corner. Plans for expansion are conservative, based on forward orders that are nailed down. New start-ups understand that this is the environment in which they must compete to survive, and are forged in the same image.
It also should not be underestimated that Britain is still a good place to do business. The UK is one of the world’s largest economies, and a market of 65 million people. Despite the Brexit shock, many foreign investors still see Britain as a safe haven, with high levels of security and low crime rates, and a robust, independent judiciary.
It has a highly skilled and flexible workforce, unbound by the most onerous EU regulation. British business has a strong record for innovation and product development, and of working in partnership with firms from all over the world.
The fall in the value of the pound in the aftermath of Brexit has enhanced the competitiveness of British firms selling overseas. Made in GB is becoming synonymous with value for money, as well as high quality. Where British goods were once priced out of the most competitive sectors, they are now winning market share. This is critical, at a time when our trading partners in the EU, the US and Asia are also enjoying a period of economic recovery.
The cheaper pound is also a boon for foreign visitors. More tourists are coming to the UK, and they have more money to spend when they are here. This is great news for the hospitality industry and for retailers, and Britain’s high streets and town centres are really feeling the benefit.
Office Space in Town, which provides serviced offices in London, Edinburgh and Cardiff, has seen strong demand from international business since Brexit. “Despite short-term uncertainty, the long-term outlook for the commercial property sector remains robust,” says Giles Fuchs, the firm’s co-founder and chief executive. “Importantly, the drop in sterling has encouraged inflow of foreign capital into the UK, particularly from the Middle East and Asia, driving demand across the UK commercial property sector.”
The healthcare sector has a particularly buoyant outlook, and is investing in technology and people. Dr Bayju Thakar, co-founder and director of online GP service Doctor Care Anywhere, says international investors continue to demonstrate strong interest in the UK. “British businesses are resilient and already we are adapting to a changing market and identifying ways to address the challenges posed by Brexit. For example, as Brits in Europe prepare for life without the European health and insurance card, we are increasing our work with international health and travel insurers to ensure travellers and expats have affordable and convenient healthcare solutions in Europe.”
For some, business as usual
Restauranteur David Page, the driving force behind The Real Greek and Franco Manca chains, was against Brexit. But his business has enjoyed good growth in recent months, giving confidence to continue with a programme of restaurant openings over the next few months. “All our businesses are at the value-for-money end of the market, which is always more resilient in a downturn. That doesn’t mean to say that it will be plain sailing, but the eating-out market continues to grow, and we are looking ahead with confidence.
“For us it is about choosing the right locations, controlling costs and giving punters what they want. The strategy doesn’t change because we are in or out of the EU."