The Brexit Agenda: What growth company FDs want

April 2017

Growth company FDs in the UK want real clarity, controlled costs and reduced complexity to be Theresa May’s watchwords in the forthcoming Brexit negotiations. Here’s a summary of their deliberations at The Contemporary FD 2017 on the challenges and opportunities for their own businesses over the next two years.

As the clock started on Article 50, 139 FDs and CFOs of British growth businesses gathered in London to discuss how their own board were addressing the Brexit challenges — and setting up for any opportunities from the withdrawal of the UK from the EU.

The delegates at The Contemporary FD 2017, hosted by EquityFD in partnership with Smith & Williamson, were asked to debate five key questions on the eve of Article 50 being triggered by the Prime Minister.

  1. What should Theresa May and her team shoot for to best serve the interests of growing UK businesses? What does a “good Brexit” look like?
  2. How do we change our approach to supply chain risk given the uncertainties around the customs union? What are we doing right now to understand and tweak it?
  3. How do we plan for changes in the labour market? What ideas do we have for contingency plans for staffing?
  4. What are the biggest opportunities arising after 2019? Where is our board keen to identify and exploit new business?
  5. What other changes in our business can we undertake as we plan for Brexit? How might we use it as a catalyst for reshaping the company in different areas?The headline? At an FD convention themed around “navigating risk”, it’s not surprising that the FDs want clarity on what’s happening; a clean break; costs that are well under control; and manageable levels of complexity.

Read the full Brexit Agenda: Growth Company Priorities

What FDs want Theresa to do

Bottom line? The PM has to secure clear rules of access to markets; use of EU labour; and set domestic policies to address perceived challenges. One group of FDs had a telling take on that last point: “fix the domestic issues that the population wrongly attributed to the membership of the EU.”

Some called for government help on exporting — it’s going to be critical, so they need to step up. Secure market access for financial services was mentioned a few times — it’s a critical industry, but also a vital part of the wider business value chain. But other industries will need similar provisions. We also need to maintain the sharing of knowledge and research.

Equally, excessive taxes, duties, tariffs or levies after the split would be bad. We heard from a few FDs who made an open call for retention of customs union membership; others cited a “low friction” deal, with barriers to Europe minimised.

Get the rules on immigration and workers’ rights sorted as soon as possible, said several groups. There should be clear and realistic numbers of qualified migrants in the UK economy. We should secure the rights of EU nationals currently living in the UK as soon as possible; a “green card” style policy on migration would offer some predictability.

And then incentivise businesses to deliver enhanced training to build up skills and make the workforce more adaptable.

But perhaps the most universal call for Theresa May — and the EU negotiators — was to deliver clarity as soon as possible on any given aspect of the post Brexit settlement, with firm deadlines for fixed foundations on which to do business.

Full commentary includes details on:

  • Supply chain issues
  • Workforce issues
  • Opportunities in the Brexit age
  • Brexit as catalyst for change
  • Questions for the board



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Guy Rigby

Head of Entrepreneurial Services, Partner London +44 (0)20 7131 8213

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