Brexit and the ‘F**K Business’ Approach

Boris Johnson’s view of the importance of business to the economy and to the care and concern he gave the business view on Brexit was well covered at the time.  Dominic Raab’s more recent revelation that Dover was actually quite important to trade as an island nation also received some attentionMichael Gove has now joined those who realise that negative impact that Brexit will have. But the real questions that should be asked have not seen the light of day:

“What planet are these people on”? and “How the hell are they qualified to make decisions for themselves let alone the country”?

The recent pathetic shennanigans from the two “main” parties in Westminster would be comic if it was not so tragic for the economy and therefore for people’s lives.   The drift to a “No-Deal” Brexit and the cavalier approach to people’s lives by Government ministers (Minister can’t guarantee no deaths because of no-deal Brexit) is simply unfathomable. 3,500 troops on standby – presumably not all will be burying the bodies?  We are simply unprepared for what could be the biggest disruption to the supply of products, including medicines and food, that we have ever seen. but worse than threat, there are some politicians that seem to be actively advocating and embracing the potential chaos.

We joined the “Common Market” in 1973 in order to gain trading advantages and benefits for the UK.  This over a period of 40 plus years has seen the removal of trade barriers, the sharing of standards and approaches and the development of seamless, frictionless supply chains.  Concepts such as just-in-time and quick response have been built on this pan-national and trading group approach. Retailers, and especially UK retailers, and through them consumers, have gained enormously. Much of what we take for granted in our retailing is based on this frictionless supply.

Putting all this into reverse and placing barriers on trade and supply will have an immediate effect.  In due course this will be worked around, probably at considerable cost and effort, and with a more expensive outcome than at present. But in the short term there is likely to be massive disruption to the ’flow’ (the clue is in the word) of products.  We can not replicate the set up nationally without years going by.  Amelioration by stockpiling will work for some products (if there is any space left).  We can wait it out at the ports and the airports and hope things move (good luck on the M20 by the way).  But all remedies add cost and operational implications and make it less likely products will be supplied when they are needed.

And this is before we consider exports. And the tariffs that will be placed on our products going to Europe (and those coming here). Guess who ends up paying? Or an immigration policy that runs the risk of denuding warehouses and distribution centres of their staff. There is a good bet that things will simply grind to a halt.

Longer term there could be other supply chain considerations. In the 1970s, and for some time after, Britain maintained its own standards and systems.  In logistics for example we had the British and the Euro pallets.  Different sizes and shapes (just like the passport).  Handling systems could not cope with both sizes seamlessly and multiple handling was required. Inefficiencies abounded. Standardising reduced costs and sped up processes.  Going back (even accidentally) to such differences is a massive risk. And now we are in the computer age so it is not just physical handling.

For almost 40 years I have been researching and examining supply chains in retailing.  A particular focus has been Tesco and the changes they brought to product supply since Operation Checkout almost destroyed them in 1977.  A chapter in our recent book summarises these changes and the benefits to consumers and the company that have resulted.  Brexit (especially if No Deal) runs the risk of reversing such changes, company by company.  The net effect will be an inefficient, broken supply system incapable of delivering what consumers want, and at an increased cost/price. And if we can mend it some way down the road and build the alternatives, it will inevitably come at a considerable price.

“F**ked business” indeed. And “f**ked customers too”. I just hope when the next elections come by, those who have suffered take it out on those in Westminster who have caused it. Don’t blame business or retailers; they are every bit as much victims of the politicians.

A longer, slightly more considered piece of mine on Brexit and retailing appeared here just after the referendum. 30 months later and little if anything has changed, and much has got worse. Is it any surprise given the Westminster politicians we have?

For the avoidance of doubt, the views above are personal (and professional).

About Leigh Sparks

I am Professor of Retail Studies at the Institute for Retail Studies, University of Stirling, where I research and teach aspects of retailing and retail supply chains, alongside various colleagues. I am Chair of Scotland's Towns Partnership. I am also a Deputy Principal of the University, with responsibility for Education and Students.
This entry was posted in Brexit, Consumers, Disasters, distribution, European Union, Frictionless, Just in Time, Logistics, Politicians, Resilience, Retailers, Supply Chains, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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