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Brexit talks between Britain’s ruling Conservative Party and the Labour opposition resumed this week, with the aim of finding a consensus on a withdrawal agreement. And anything could happen. Thanks to the latest extension, U.K. parliamentarians have until October 31 to reach agreement on a formula for leaving the European Union but there is no guarantee that they will. As things stand, legislators are digging in to defend their own preferred options for a “good” Brexit. Some favor a no deal exit, others are putting their collective weight behind Common Market 2.0, which would essentially involve Britain retaining its Customs Union and Single Market membership. Meanwhile, a significant number are pushing hard for a second referendum to reverse the decision of the first. If no majority is found for any of the options on the table, Britain could find itself outside the E.U. by default when Halloween rolls around.
It may be that the public – supposedly sick to the back teeth of anything to do with Brexit – are quite enjoying the spectacle. According to a report in the Observer newspaper, the BBC has seen the audience for its Parliament Channel rise to a record figure of 3.5 million per month as viewers tune in for a regular helping of ill-tempered debates and knife-edge votes.
Businesses, on the other hand, are less than thrilled by the lack of certainty. And whatever Parliamentarians ultimately decide, there could be some difficult trading conditions ahead, with a “no deal” outcome generally – although not universally – seen as the most dangerous outcome.
A Cry For Help
Faced with the prospect of perhaps severe disruption, SMEs – or at least some of them – are going to be looking to their banks for help and support. The question is, will banks – and the financial services industry, more generally – step up to the plate and show their caring, supportive side?
Well, there is a bit of movement on that front. For instance, earlier this month, Barclays announced that it was setting aside a £14.7 billion lending fund, aimed at “helping small businesses through turbulent times” as Brexit looms large.
In addition, the bank is organizing a series of clinics and seminars for SMEs, with the aim of helping managers and owners to at least think about how they will manage cash flow and working capital through potentially difficult times. These events will also address issues related to importing, exporting and managing supply chains.
“Today’s £14bn fund, along with our broader package of support, shows our commitment to the local businesses that are the backbone of the UK economy – we are here to help them plan for the future and invest for growth,” said Group CEO Jes Stanley.
Barclays is not alone. In October of last year, Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) Group said it was setting aside £2 billion, which would be deployed to provide trade and term finance to help SMEs to weather Brexit turbulence.
Meanwhile, UK Finance – the trade body for Britain’s banking industry – has put its weight behind efforts to encourage small businesses to prepare for life outside the EU. In February, with the support of the British Chambers of Commerce, the Confederation of British Industry and the Small Business Federation, UK Finance launched a campaign dubbed “Let’s Talk Business.” In addition to producing an online guide, the organization also encouraged SMEs to talk to their finance providers about any potential funding issues that might be raised by Britain’s departure from the EU.
“We are encouraging businesses who haven’t done so yet to think about how they might be impacted,” said UK Finance CEO, Stephen Jones. “The banking and finance industry stands ready to support viable businesses whatever the outcome.”
The key word is, of course, “viable.” Until Britain leaves the European Union, we won’t know the full impact on businesses. It’s probably comforting to know that the banking industry is pledging support, but if a business is struggling, that support cannot be guaranteed. Banks and their credit committees will take a view as to what viability actually means in this context. And when it comes to talking about potential problems with their bankers, small business owners may fear that after due assessment, they will be considered non-viable.
The banks are of course right to encourage forward planning. But as the political chaos continues, one might ask the question, planning for what exactly?
April 27, 2019 at 04:54AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs