Three years is a long time to be preparing for something, especially when you don't quite know what you are prepar ing for. Essex Chambers of Commerce worked towards preparing to exit the European Union on March 29 as well as October 31 - and continue to prepare for whatever may follow after the general election on December 12.
We have been helping Essex businesses plan for Brexit for more than three years since the referendum results in June 2016. Initially we delivered support and advice geared towards raising awareness. Some businesses said, and continue to say, how can we plan for what we don't know?
We understand every scenario is different and there are many influencing factors on what action to take, but what is evident is there were great benefit for those businesses who have communicated with their staff, reviewed and engaged with their supply chains and enhanced their knowledge in the areas required to make their businesses more resilient and compliant.
We quickly identified that a large volume of businesses currently export or import solely to the EU and that these businesses in particular needed to learn and understand about a number of key topics that would be new to them. Initially, we introduced some awareness workshops, roundtable discussions and export and import training courses which covered topics such as customs awareness, authorised economic operator and export and import training processes.
We met with the Department of International Trade (DIT) Trade Policy Group in December 2017 with some of our members where they were able to voice their concerns about impending and future problems which could impact their businesses. Our International Trade Forums, hosted by Priti Patel at Westminster, gave our members a platform to speak and listen to some key influential ministers such as Greg Hands, Liam Fox and George Hollingbery. We conducted surveys and engaged with our members enabling us to convey feedback to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and DIT. Through our continued engagement, we have been able to gauge the key issues affecting Essex businesses.
Throughout, we have continued to communicate facts and not assumptions, when they become available. Much of the information sent out through the many outlets of communication by the Government has been complicated, technical and sometimes duplicated. Our aim has been to demystify and clarify the information to businesses making it readily available and easy to navigate.
We listen to our members and businesses and are able to easily identify the need for training, advice and support. We have a network of specialist advisors and trainers that enable us to very quickly deliver new content and feed this into our training and workshop programmes.
Some businesses could be looking at exporting using Customs Declarations for the first time. In order to complete a Custom Declaration, it is essential to understand and perform certain processes. These processes are very complex and require training in their own right. We have now integrated new courses, such as Tariff Classification & Brexit Masterclasses into the Export Expert programme to enable businesses to understand the processes required to make declarations.
When HMRC announced the introduction of a new system to replace CHIEF - the Custom Declaration Service (CDS) - it was evident that training and clarification on the impending new system would be beneficial. Our specialist trainer was able to quickly identify the content required to deliver a CDS 'Training Workshop and there are more planned for 2020.
Our Brexit & Beyond Masterclass is constantly evolving to reflect up-t o the-minute changes as they are announced, with our trainer sometimes editing content the night before a course. Businesses not only find these masterclasses useful in terms of preparing but also listening to other businesses and exchanging best practice.
We have been proactive in highlighting to businesses the fact they may be able to receive 100% training grants from HMRC. Many businesses have benefitted and many more will continue to up until January 2020 which is the deadline for applications. You can find out more by going to our website.
The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has been keeping us updated on its progress and engagement with ministers and government departments. It provides resources to the Chamber network enabling us to report latest news and updates to the Essex business community. There have been some major triumphs as a result of the BCC lobbying the Government in simplifying process and putting easements in place such as auto enrolment for EORI numbers and 'Transitional Simplified Procedures (TSP).
The BCC Checklist and Dashboard have proven invaluable in clarifying what businesses need to know and what they should be thinking about in order to plan for Brexit. You can find links to this information together with our e-guides and more on our Brexit webpage.
We have a dedicated Brexit enquiry online form so we can quickly respond to businesses to help and assist them with their ongoing enquiries.
Although Brexit is on hold for the general election and the outcome is unknown, businesses still need to continue to safeguard and prepare for the Brexit scenarios. The best way to do this is by enhancing your knowledge in the areas you feel you are not prepared in or need refreshing in.
We have always encouraged Essex businesses to look at the possibility of selling their goods and services into new markets. Whether to Europe or to the rest of the world, there are opportunities and trade will always happen as it has done for centuries. Next year we will be holding further business clinics with specialist advisors from markets such as the USA, Bulgaria, China, Russia and the Middle East, to name a few.
Whether it is new free trade agreements, rules of origin or changes to sector based information and regulation from Government agencies that need clarifying, we will be here to support, advise and inform you. We will continue to source the best advisors to give you the best possible support. In addition to this practical support, we and the British Chambers of Commerce have also been lobbying Government to get Brexit resolved as soon as possible and in a way that is both beneficial and clear to businesses. We share businesses' frustrations over the lack of clear guidance in many areas.
If you are experiencing problems of any kind arising from Brexit, let us know and we will raise your issues with the relevant Government department. We can't promise an instant solution but we will do our best so assist.