Brexit challenges for West Norfolk businesses as European trade deal talks hang in air
West Norfolk businesses continue to be faced with uncertainty over Brexit as the end of the transition period for leaving the European Union looms ever closer.
Among the issues causing concern are pre-Brexit panic buying, employees returning to their home countries and the position on tariffs ahead of the December 31 deadline.
There are also fears a no-deal Brexit could suddenly hit businesses after months of planning as talks continue with Europe over a trade deal.
Peter Brown, managing director of Fakenham-based Jack Richards and Son, said this is "without doubt" the most challenging period during his 15 years in the role.
He said: "We are as prepared as we can be but with the amount of information we have got it is not easy to be totally prepared. With exporting, the customs declaration is something for us to deal with and the recommended issues coming through.
"There are big challenges for us, the biggest being the threat of a no-deal Brexit which won't take away from the panic buying. A bit like the lockdown buying in shops, there has been a shortage from Europe at a time when haulage is already very busy.
"In some ways, there is more trepidation before rather than after the 31st."
Ever since the Brexit vote, Mr Brown and other directors have seen the demand for European goods increase, subsequently creating pressure on the driver market. This has been exacerbated by the coronavirus and some drivers returning home to Europe.
Jack Richards and Son has had some positive Covid-19 tests across the country with drivers having to isolate for two weeks if they are found to have the virus.
Affected lorries are disinfected and left for three days. Given the demand on drivers due to the so-called Brexit panic-buying, it has been a challenging period for many.
Ian Barclay, operations director of Great Dunham-based Roger Warnes Transport said: "We’ve spent the last three years watching closely how Brexit may impact our business.
"The position on tariffs is still unclear but we made the decision to pre-purchase our vehicle supply, that keeps our fleet current and maintains essential reliability. We do employ some eastern European drivers but they’re well established in the UK and they’re committed to staying with us.
"We’re very fortunate that we do have our driver training programme and regular applications from good hard working, experienced local people.
"Grain movements are picking up but they are still unpredictable, compounded by the perfect storm of unusual weather patterns during late 2019 and early 2020, further exacerbated by the pandemic. But we’re a resilient business operating in a sector that’s very used to dealing with big challenges so it’s very much, business as usual irrespective of Brexit. We’ll keep the country moving."
Many businesses crave certainty and believe they can adapt once the situation on leaving Europe is confirmed.
Mr Brown said: "I think the French could be awkward about going across the Channel but the Dutch will be pragmatic and things will adapt fairly quickly.
"People will always have that entrepreneurial instinct to keep things moving. It could potentially be more expensive through the early months of next year but we will get there."
An Associated British Ports spokeswoman, said: “We are supportive of efforts being made to secure a deal to leave the EU. We continue to work closely with the Government and our customers across Britain to make sure we are ready for a no-deal scenario.
"ABP has invested substantially in our infrastructure over the previous two years to make sure that trade can continue to flow and grow.
“ABP is working closely with Government, local authorities, agencies and industry to prepare for the changes in trading arrangements when the UK leaves the transition period with the EU at the end of the year.”