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Brexit: like nothing that has come before?

By Dr Ruth Massie

union jacks hanging from buildingA recent tracker report by the Business Continuity Institute (BCI) focused on the level of preparedness for Brexit by organisations.

The report identified that 47.5% of respondents rated their organisation as being well prepared, or very well prepared, for a soft Brexit with only 28.0% saying the same about a hard Brexit. With 40% of the respondents believing that the UK will leave without a deal, despite the UK Government’s assurances to the contrary, for the 72% who feel their organisation is under-prepared for a no deal option, time is running out.

Outside of the UK, Brexit isn’t everyone’s priority; overseas respondents to the BCI’s questions noted that the current trade tariffs between China and the US were, in some cases, a more pressing concern that Brexit. However, with a no deal Brexit threatening to derail the more global, interconnected supply chains that are evident today, Brexit is no longer an issue to just the UK and Europe.

In previous national events, the UK government has provided extensive guidance to organisations to assist them in their planning. For example, in the late 1990s there was a myriad of information on Y2K, the so-called ‘Millennium Bug’ and the effects the use of a two digit date rather than four digit would have on computer operations. A more recent example is that of the publishing of planning assumptions for flu pandemics.

However, for Brexit the government guidance is just starting to appear and, whilst many of the BCI’s respondents have added Brexit to their risk register, relatively few have progressed beyond this necessary, but high level, action.

The majority of organisations, both in the UK and abroad, are yet to develop any detailed Brexit contingency plans themselves. In contrast, the UK’s Highways Agency have recently tested detailed plans to close the M26 motorway to use as a lorry park in the event of significant transport distribution to the Continent; this would be used to manage the delays expected for increase customs checks under a no deal scenario. This delay in deliveries may have a significant impact on organisations’ supply chains and, ultimately, available working capital especially to smaller organisation further down the supply chain.

That said, it’s not all doom and gloom: many organisations have been planning for unknown events for years through their Business Continuity programme and, as such, do have a basis for such planning. The role of Business Continuity Managers has changed over recent years, from focusing on returning to business-as-usual after a negative event to ensuring the ongoing resilience of their organisation. As such, is it time for organisations’ senior management to sit down with their Business Continuity Managers and have a meaningful heart-to-heart on what Brexit really means for their organisation?

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