Stuart McCallum: Vigilance is key after Brexit vote

RSM's Stuart McCallum says Brexit could present a 'golden opportunity' for manufacturers. Picture: Contributed

RSM's Stuart McCallum says Brexit could present a 'golden opportunity' for manufacturers. Picture: Contributed

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The most obvious conclusion from the Brexit vote is that Scottish manufacturers now face a period of major uncertainty.

No-one knows how long this will hang over the country, and for business leaders uncertainty always leads to risk.

Businesses need to be vigilant more than ever, and this presents a major challenge for mid-market companies where resources tend to be tightly controlled and risk management processes are informal.

In the short term, there will be volatility. This was demonstrated by the move to a 30-year low for sterling against the US dollar. Foreign currency is the most obvious commodity exposure that can have a major impact on cash and profits. There may be opportunities for firms to lock in preferential rates for the short to medium-term.

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Clearly, changes to international trading arrangements will be profound and we expect nearly all manufacturers to feel the impact, whether they supply products overseas or buy capital equipment from continental Europe.

While nothing changes overnight, customs duty, tariffs and VAT are all likely to be renegotiated and this will likely have an impact on margin, cash flow and supply chain resilience.

Many manufacturers in Scotland have benefited from the free movement of labour across the EU, particularly in the food and drink sector.

READ MORE: Manufacturing sector hit five-month high ahead of Brexit

The attitude and flexible nature of migrant workers has brought a highly effective and plentiful supply of casual labour to seasonal businesses. It is therefore essential that immigration policies are sufficiently flexible to ensure that economic expansion is not hampered by insufficient labour.

There is, however, a golden opportunity for the sector. Brexit means that Scotland and the UK should no longer need to comply with state aid rules meaning that government can implement grant funding mechanisms that get to the heart of current structural issues surrounding the funding of innovation and supporting future growth plans.

Furthermore, the government will be free to develop an attractive tax landscape that should maintain and build on the UK’s attractiveness to global businesses.

Above all else, we now need to acknowledge the importance of manufacturing to the long-term economic success of both Scotland and the UK.

It is worth remembering that manufacturing generates more than 50 per cent of all exports and around 70 per cent of all business innovation in the UK. It has the potential to be the driving force for long-term Scottish and UK prosperity.

• Stuart McCallum is head of food and drink in Scotland for RSM

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