If Brexit had a hit list, it would be mercilessly scratching off Lincolnshire businesses in a strong and stable succession. Since the referendum of 2016, a pattern has emerged, and whether influenced by well-recited consumer uncertainty, the internet boom or trade blockades, business owners who have called it a day in the last three years have almost all placed some of the blame for their demise on the UK’s impending departure from the EU.
Brexit’s unshakeable dominance has impacted companies of all shapes and sizes in the county. This week, 50-year-old Lincoln family business Bang & Olufsen said the appetite for its luxury products has faded. Its long established High Street shop will soon close for good. “It’s a very high end brand and for the last three years there’s been a lot of uncertainty with the Brexit situation,” explained owner Gavin Sykes. “Our customers have, to some degree, been sat on their hands.”
Consumer confidence has been battered by yo-yoing threats of a no-deal exit, recession predictions and trade war backdrops between the US and China. Disappearing retailers on Lincolnshire high streets are the casualties of shoppers’ double-knotted purse strings, alongside huge shifts from personal shopping to online bargain hunts and stringent price comparisons.
In the last two years alone, the lights went out in Toys R Us superstores, Poundworld, Downtown stores, Office Outlet, Bath Store and other household names like Mammas & Papas, and soon Mothercare, across Lincolnshire.
“The heightened political and Brexit uncertainty, as to both outcome and timing, is adversely affecting customer confidence,” said Pendragon PLC upon closing one of its Evans Halshaw dealerships in Lincoln in October 2019.
But it’s not just retail industries taking the hit. Engineering and construction firms from the Humber to the Wash are squeezing operations, halting building work and freezing investment. Back in 2016, Grantham metal fabricator S.S.T. Process Engineering entered administration amid cries of uncertain markets.
It was a precursor to wider troubles. “British Steel collapses,” read the headlines in May this year. China’s Jingye Group is now set to swoop in with a rescue deal worth around £70 million for the company, which employs 4,500 people at its Scunthorpe site. The final hour deal comes after the firm sought a £75 million government loan to keep afloat. It blamed a slump in orders from European customers and uncertainty about trading arrangements with the EU. “Unfortunately, this could be the first major casualty of a messy Brexit,” warned Managing Director of Forbes Burton Rick Smith previously.
Additionally, the pressure arrived at the door of one of Lincoln’s biggest employers. Siemens announced in September that it was looking for up to 70 voluntary redundancies at its Ruston Works site “to help size the business in-line with market demands.”
Lincoln construction firm Simons, established in 1944, filed for administration in October 2019, signalling around 124 job losses. The company, which was carrying a significant deficit (£11.3 million at last filing in March 2018), was building mainly for the retail and commercial sector. The company said the market was facing a “challenging time,” which it expected to continue.
As Brexit, and now the upcoming general election, sucks up more capacity in Westminster, the government has no more bandwidth for addressing giant issues in the business community. Leaders in the county will be listening intently to election promises which eradicate uncertainty, trade fears and spending anxieties.