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Exporters from across the North discussed their post-Brexit opportunities and challenges at two virtual roundtable events, organised by UMi in association with PD Ports and HSBC UK, as part of The Northern Powerhouse Export Campaign and Awards.

UMi brought together business leaders from a range of sectors and industries for two virtual roundtable events to share their experiences in exporting and importing since the Brexit transition period between the UK and the EU ended on 31 December2020. The roundtables formed part of The Northern Powerhouse Export Campaign and Awards, which celebrates and supports exporting businesses across the North.  

The first roundtable, held on 27 January in association with PD Ports, discussed: How technology could be used to ease the flow of goods post-Brexit.  

It was led by Jan-Willem Rikkerink, Director of IT at PD Ports, and attendees included Anita Zhang (Owner and Co-FounderACOLINK), Colin Simpson (Business Development Director, Tomlinson Hall), and Dave Roberts (Managing Director, XCell Broadcast).  

The discussion centred on the impact increased levels of customs documentation and new regulations are having on businesses importing or exporting goods into the UK. Some attendees even spoke of how they have been forced to increase product prices to cover costs associated with the new regulations.  

The discussion focussed on what would make it easier for businesses to do more and go further and the consensus among the attendees was that an online portal would be beneficial, similar to HMRC’s tax portal, where all necessary documentation could be found in one place.   

While it was noted that more government support was needed to combat Brexit disruptions, there was real praise of the government’s Export Academy. 

COVID-19 was a natural topic of conversation and how the pandemic has prompted businesses to accelerate digitalisation out of immediate necessity, though not without complications. One attendee highlighted the bandwidth and connectivity difficulties his TV host broadcasting company were facing in Asia for its cloud-based solution that would enable UK-based commentators to report live on major sporting events, which they can’t attend in person due to existing travel restrictions. 

The importance of coming together to share experiences, ideas and difficulties, not just within the Northern Powerhouse, but across the UK, was also highlighted as vital in assuring prosperity in the post-Brexit landscape.   

PD Ports commented: “Having recently launched our bold ambition to make the River Tees the UK’s most successful port region by 2050, we know that technology will continue to play a huge part in the continuous development of our business as we look to become a ‘smarter port’. 

“We felt that a platform for collaboration with other businesses in the Northern Powerhouse, especially as we progress through the Brexit transition period, was vital to ensure new ideas and best practice could be shared.  

“With the help of UMi, the virtual roundtable event allowed us to do just that, giving businesses the invaluable opportunity to come together and voice their opinions in order to make a collective impact going forward.” 

The second of the virtual roundtables, held on 9 February, was hosted by HSBC UK and focused on: Supporting the trading ambitions of UK businesses in a post-Brexit world. 

Attendees included Leigh Briggs (Regional DirectorGlobal Trade and Receivable Finance at HSBC) Naz Demir (Deputy Head - UK Region North EastDepartment for International Trade), Henri Murison (Director, The Northern Powerhouse Partnership) and Victoria Coppack (Managing DirectorDB Orthodontics- the overall winners of the 2020 Northern Powerhouse Export Awards).  

Mark Berisford-Smith, Head of Economics, Commercial Banking at HSBC UK, began the event with a presentation that gave an economic overview of the current trading environment for UK businesses.  

He spoke of the challenging circumstances businesses face, predicting little change until at least spring, when over-50s are expected to be vaccinated and lockdown measures are expected to ease. 

While current conditions are difficult, Mark offered some reassurance, stating that the UK is on course to avoid a double dip recession and, if all goes to plan, GDP is likely to recover to pre-COVID-19 levels towards the end of next year.  

On the topic of Brexit, the discussion centred around the EU trade agreement and the fact that, although the deal is in line with expectations, businesses will need time to adjust and may rejig their supply chains to simplify operations in future. Some attendees said they are already considering the strategic benefits of opening European distribution centres.  

Despite the difficulties, attendees also spoke of positive changes to come from Brexit disruptions, seeing opportunities in the UK’s strong brand as producers of high-quality, trustworthy products. Some countries, for example the Caribbean and China were highlighted as areas of untapped potential for many exporters.   

The session concluded with Mark highlighting how HSBC is supporting companies with guarantees for duty deferment, working capital and extending trade facilities.  

HSBC reported“Doing business with Europe changed on 1 January and for many UK businesses it has proved to be a challenging transition. As the world’s largest trade bank, HSBC is dedicated to supporting UK businesses understand how these new arrangements affect them directly and through their supply chains and what new processes they will need to adopt.  

“The virtual roundtable provided a great opportunity for businesses to share their individual experiences so far and discuss some of the considerations companies in the North are having to make to keep goods moving in and out of the UK, as well as identifying the support they need. 

There is all sorts of help available from both the public and private sector as businesses adapt to the new trade arrangements and today’s session helps inform that support, ensuring it addresses their specific needs. At HSBC UK we are holding a series of webinars covering Life After Brexit, for further details visit our Tomorrow Ready Hubhttps://www.business.hsbc.uk/en-gb/tomorrow-ready-programme 

Nicki Clark, CEO of UMi, founders of the awards, added: “UMi’s promise is to help businesses do more and go further, and these roundtable discussions are a great example of how we do just that, bringing together businesses from a range of sectors to work together and find a way to go further in the world. 

“Togetherness might feel like a bit of a strange concept when we’re feeling the physical constraints of a global pandemic and quite possibly fundamental changes in some of our closest trading relationships, but there is no better evidence of a desire to collaborate beyond our own shores than the stories we’ve heard across these two thought-provoking discussions. 

“If you’re an exporter yourself and are keen to understand more about how to get involved or your business needs some support to navigate EU transition, UMi is on a mission to make it easier, so please get in touch”. 

UMi is the proud founder of the annual Northern Powerhouse Export Campaign and Awards, which it established in 2017 to showcase exporters across the North.  

The 2020 awards, run in association with HSBC UKPD Ports, Teesside International Airport, and Teesside University, was held virtually on 3 December and celebrated the achievements and entrepreneurial flair of Northern exporters across nine categories.  

In a special guest introduction on the eveningGraham Stuart MP, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Minister for Exports) at the Department for International Trade, said: “I’d like to thank all our dynamic Northern creators and innovators, who set this region apart as a hub of entrepreneurial energy and expertise, and as an engine of economic growth.   

“Over the coming years, we want to help many more businesses across the Northern Powerhouse and around the UK embrace the great benefits of export-led success as we build a truly global Britain that champions the cause of international trade and investment on the world stage.” 

You can read the full write up of both roundtable events in the upcoming Northern Powerhouse Export Awards 2020 Special Index Report, which will be released at the end of March, featuring inspiring export journeys, helpful resources and insight into exporting across the Northern Powerhouse.   

Ashleigh Smith
Article by Ashleigh Smith
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