Are you Brexit ready?

Time is running out for local businesses to get to grips with what Brexit means for them, says one of the region’s leading accountants.

With Covid taking up almost every inch of social media and news space, Brexit has taken a back seat, so it’s more important than ever to be aware of the January deadline and to ensure that you are prepared, says Anne Cowley, a partner at Stockton-based chartered accountants Baines Jewitt.

“Many companies may have almost forgotten about Brexit and the changes coming in January,” she said.

“The time is running out for companies to get to grips with what it means for them. It’s a worry that some may be caught out and are perhaps ill-prepared.

“Business owners who have any supply chains with Europe or who deal with Europe at all need to be looking at now it impacts them and ensure they get the right advice,” continued Anne who was in discussion with Tees Business executive editor Dave Allan on Talking Business, the weekly digital interview from Tees Business.

“I would certainly suggest a good accountant, especially at this time,” said Anne. “Though there are some really good government Brexit checklists online which tell you what you need to think about, it always helps to have an outside ear and another voice.”

2020 has certainly been a time of upheaval for most, and a particularly busy and stressful time for Anne and the Baines Jewitt team.

“During the first lockdown, Rishi Sunak had a habit of making announcements on a Friday afternoon, so weekends were quite interesting,” smiled Anne.

“We were incredibly busy calling clients and telling then about work-related grants and how to get them, plus explaining the furlough scheme and helping them access that.

“But clients really appreciated the fact that we approached them with suggestions about deferring tax and VAT payments or encouraging them to set up a time to pay with liabilities that weren’t covered by global arrangements.”

In the months since the first lockdown, Anne has been proud of the way that our region’s businesses have rallied.

“Some have sailed through the last seven or eight months, while others have been hit hard, but generally business owners have been quite level-headed and have tried to think of different ways to operate,” she said.

“As a good example, restaurants have done things like takeaways. They’re not making the money they were before, but they are at least trying to improve on the situation.

“Some, of course, have thrived and, in particular, those with a strong online presence have done really well.”

With any business challenge, Anne says it is imperative to know which area of a business is profitable, which isn’t, and to base financial decisions on that knowledge.

Business owners can do that themselves or by talking to an accountant who can offer steadfast advice,” she said.

“Sometimes you can’t see the wood for the trees, so someone coming in, looking and breaking the figures down can say: ‘What about this? Have you thought about this?’”

Despite the generally gloomy outlook at the moment, Anne is convinced that things will improve.

“For businesses, there are always going to be challenges,” she added. “This year has been particularly tricky and no doubt there will be other challenges in the future, but with the right advice and reserves behind them, our businesses will continue to be resilient and they will get through what’s thrown at them.

“I think we can look forward to brighter times ahead.”