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'Roll up your sleeves and get on with it': How East Anglian firms are dealing with Brexit

PUBLISHED: 13:30 07 August 2019 | UPDATED: 13:49 07 August 2019

Cabins Unlimited director Rob Scott. Picture: Cabins Unlimited

Cabins Unlimited director Rob Scott. Picture: Cabins Unlimited

Cabins Unlimited

Business confidence in the region has continued to nose-dive according to the latest figures from Lloyds Bank.

East Anglian firms have said they cannot afford to fall apart over Brexit. Picture: ArchantEast Anglian firms have said they cannot afford to fall apart over Brexit. Picture: Archant

According to its latest business barometer, confidence dropped by four points between June and July to 9pc.

Firms' confidence in their own business prospects also dropped from 29pc to 18pc while economic optimism stood at 0pc - four points above June.

Across the region 26pc of businesses said they felt Brexit was having a negative impact on their expectations for business activity, up nine points on a month ago.

But some companies in the region have said sitting back and accepting this uncertainty simply won't do.

Philip Turner, owner of The Chestnut Group  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNPhilip Turner, owner of The Chestnut Group Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Rob Scott is the chief executive of Dereham-based Cabins Unlimited, which supplies garden rooms and summer houses, and has increased its show rooms in Norfolk to three in the past year.

Mr Scott said: "We can't just fall apart, we have to roll up our sleeves and get on with it. But the public need to do that too - if businesses are cracking on then consumers also need to start spending again or the economy will grind to a halt."

It was announced this week that consumer spending in the UK has fallen to a record low of 0.5pc, according to the British Retail Consortium and KPMG.

This was due to Brexit as well as slow real wage growth and hot weather in July.

North West Norfolk Conservative MP Sir Henry Bellingham Photo: UK ParliamentNorth West Norfolk Conservative MP Sir Henry Bellingham Photo: UK Parliament

Mr Scott continued that a no deal could actually present an opportunity to his company: "Farmers who may lose subsidies will be looking to diversify and open up new revenue streams and this most likely will be in the glamping, B&B and holiday let sectors - which our buildings would be perfect for."

Mr Scott's practicality was echoed by Philip Turner, founder of pub and hotel group The Chesnut Group which operates largely in Suffolk.

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Mr Turner said that businesses couldn't afford to stop: "We have team members who rely on us to get paid and guests who expect us to deliver a fantastic experience - that is where my priority is."

Kettle Foods factory.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYKettle Foods factory. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

He added: "Our focus is to control the controllables, and not be distracted by what we cannot control. We are heads down doing our best for the team and our guests - as we know we are not doomed."

The end could be in sight with a new prime minister at the helm, determined to force Brexit through with or without a deal, he said.

"The noise created by Mr Johnson's 'bluster' will surely ignite the embers of the ongoing situation - providing additional scope for animated discussion on both sides of the argument. It is impossible to move forwards without a plan, and given the referendum result it is equally impossible to have a plan that suits everyone," said Mr Turner.

Norwich crisp giant Kettle Foods has similarly begun to plan for either a deal or no deal scenario.

The manufacturer has made a number of investments in the past three years, most recently a £2.7m new potato processing facility.

Brenda Handley-Howorth, head of HR at Kettle Foods, said: "We have had to consider the implications of Brexit particularly as we export 15pc of our products to Europe. We have done what we can to secure our supply chain in

the event of Brexit. We will of course need to consider the impact of a no deal Brexit on how we continue to trade with Europe."

Ms Handley-Howorth added that holding back on investment was not an option: "We are in a very competitive market. Unless we continue to invest we would run the risk of our consumers moving away from Kettle Chips into our competitors' products ,and that would be bad news for the Norfolk economy."

Henry Bellingham is a Conservative MP for North West Norfolk, and said that he didn't believe that the UK would "crash out" of the European Union.

"I think Boris has been able to be more direct in negotiations because of article 24, which gives us time to establish trade agreements after we have left the EU," said Mr Bellingham. "Boris has always been committed and has said he doesn't want to leave with a no deal, but even if we do we will not be crashing out as it's feared.

"I appreciate why some firms, particularly those headquartered abroad, have held off investing. But we'll know a lot more answers in a matter of months."

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