Brexit comment: It’s time to pick up the pieces
As the fallout from the UK's decision to leave the EU - a scenario which would have seen implausible to many business and political leaders 18 months ago - it's time to pick up the pieces and work out what Britain's post-EU business landscape will look like.
Of course, only 5 days-in, we're a long way off knowing what that landscape might look like. What is absolutely clear, however, is that we need to see strong leadership from government and business to restore calm to markets and the economy. With leadership in the former lacking at the moment, business leaders need to put pressure on our elected representatives to develop and share their plans for the post-Brexit world.
The first call to action for the Government must be to provide as much certainty and clarity to business and the markets as possible during this initial post-referendum period. The message must be clear that there will be no immediate changes to the way in which businesses are able to operate in Britain, for now it is - quite literally - business as usual.
This message needs to be backed-up by a clear plan for the coming weeks and months. Whilst uncertainty will inevitably loom in the mid to long-term it is vital that the Government and business leaders come together to establish a clear near-term plan-of-action. Without this business and public confidence will deteriorate and market volatility will only increase.
As widely discussed in the build-up to the referendum, service sector industries are likely to be hard-hit as Britain departs the EU. We therefore need Government to work with businesses, professional bodies and sector groups to work out what assurances can be provided to stabilise jobs and investment, particularly in the financial services sector, which is a hugely important contributor to UK GDP.
Many ACCA members work with new and expanding businesses and know all too well the challenges that many face in raising funding. Under Lord Hill's leadership a huge amount of work was done to improve access to finance across the EU, particularly for SMEs. ACCA has been involved in this work and it is clear to us that there is a lot to be lost by merely walking away. We therefore need to work out how Britain can continue to contribute to and benefit from this vitally important area of work, which will ultimately underpin Britain's future economic prospects.
Finally, what impact will the referendum result have on domestic policy here in the United Kingdom? Will flagship initiatives, such as the Government's work on apprenticeships, be impacted upon? Particularly where European funding has supported or been earmarked for such initiatives (European Social Funds have been used to support the classroom learning element of some apprenticeship programmes for example). It would therefore be reassuring to hear that the Government is assessing this and putting in place contingency plans as necessary.
Then we have infrastructure. An area where the Government said it would be decisive and put right decades of underinvestment. Despite the Government's commendable drive behind the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine, where do such projects stand now? Brexit poses many more questions than answers for would-be investors. Other factors come into play here. For example, will deferring the decision on Heathrow come back to haunt the British economy? Creating regional economies (with the Northern Powerhouse being the flagship project) that are strongly interlinked nationally and internationally will be vital for attracting inward investment. Now is not time to be playing catch-up.
Regardless of Michael Gove's views on experts, professionals with expert skills will play a critical role in helping government and business shape and navigate the transition to a newly independent Britain. Our members support and advise businesses of all shapes and sizes and across all sectors on a day-to-day basis. Alongside legal and legislative experts, professional accountants will play a hugely important role in helping both the private and the public sector evolve from the existing to the new with as few bumps as possible. They will also play a key role in identifying and flagging risks along the way.
All is far from lost and, as with any big change, there will come opportunities. Now is the time for bold and decisive action to ensure any such opportunities do not pass us by. This needs to start with a clear plan that does not shy away from tackling some of the critical challenges that lay ahead. In a fast moving global economy there is no time to dally, unnecessary hesitation and delay could prove costly further down the line.
This piece was originally published in The Accountant.