“There is an onus on SMEs to make links with good forward-looking universities and to go get the students. Don’t expect them to come to you,” said Hawkins. Equally, companies should respect their engineers’ skills and not let them “get stuck in ivory towers dealing only with tech problems”, rather than customers’ issues.

Atkinson suggested shorter academic knowledge courses linked to relevant and practical in-house training with businesses to achieve graduate degrees, rather similar to the four-year ‘thick sandwich’ courses previously offered by Brunel University.

BAe Systems is already doing something similar in Preston and Barrow, Caffrey mentioned. “We don’t see education stopping at the university stage. The whole idea is that it is applied and goes out to help business.”

The very real barriers of a post- Brexit world

Clarke: “Before we joined the EU, trading and going through customs barriers with carnet forms, regulations, inspections and all that palaver was an absolute nightmare.

Every country had different standards, and approvals were required in every one.

“Because trading has been almost frictionless people don’t realise how big the logistical problems can be. Anything that makes things different is actually a backward step and will be a big cost to business.”

Pre-EU membership, a UK truck had to be checked through five borders to get to Italy, Perriman exampled. The UK had 80 customs clearance companies at Dover; now there are four and no customs infrastructure. Europe currently provides 40% of UK food, that will require extra border inspection. “And that’s just one product sector. Are we prepared for all this? Absolutely not.”

Driver shortage is also a real post-Brexit threat with truckers already threatening to quit rather than face lengthy customs checks. Hiring and insuring a holiday car abroad will bring similar difficulties, he suggested.

Hawkins felt such problems were often exaggerated. “You would almost think we are going to war with Europe. Before the EU, surely UK drivers drove on the continent?

Perriman: “Yes, but we have acclimatised over 40 years to something very different and to suddenly switch back when the infrastructure has been dismantled ... we can’t do it.”

Hawkins: “It’s not in either party’s interest to be so belligerent. It will be stupidity not to operate reciprocally.”


Whiteley: “But today, anywhere in the world, we can hire a car and drive it can’t we?”

Perriman: “Such arrangements are underpinned by EU deals. These will each have to be renegotiated for the UK. “There are 1,300 EU trade deals alone with the US.

“Brexit isn’t just a case of flicking a switch.”

International trade makes the world go round

Whiteley: “I think you’ll find that money and international contracts make the world go round. Everyone has products that people want, and I feel quietly confident the world will want to do business with the UK.

“I’m unhappy about being dropped in this completely unknown ridiculous Brexit mess, but I think we are a good enough country to pull though.”

Arnott: “In our sector survey only about 30% of businesses cited Brexit as a major barrier to growth, 75% said they will grow during next year. As a sector, manufacturing and engineering is still positive. We need to be prepared for things to become more difficult, but business life will not cease.”

Whiteley: “Worldwide, things are constantly changing anyway; we are simply seeing a chance to trade differently internationally.”

Barnett credited Brexit with sharpening his company’s competitive edge. “It has helped me focus on our USP, because that is our world differentiator. If I am one of many, I am in a dog-fight, but my USP, allied to ‘Made in UK’, will help me punch above my weight.”

However, without EU-supported programmes, he was concerned about gaining appropriate future funding.

Devall mentioned that funding is still currently available from existing EU funding schemes. He also mentioned supportive government Brexit technical notices, HMRC information packs, and a helpful British Chambers of Commerce checklist provided online.

Arnott and Clarke commended UKTi trading assistance. Flanagan added: “We went on trade mission trips to the US and Australia with them, and that was very useful, helping with banking, insurance and trading structure set-ups.”

Since US and Australian standards and regulations can alter state to state, securing local agents had greatly helped Oxford Plastics’ exporting, noted Whiteley.

Clarke was pleased. He cited the importing concerns of one of his early American clients over the cost of ferry transport between the UK islands of Ireland, Scotland and Wales. “All their business was in the United States; an American’s view of the rest of the world can be very strange.”

Tom Jeffery 100 TM

Andrew Barnett

Sue Flanagan

Peter Laurie

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