Whichever way you look at it, last week’s election was an utter shambles.
The one thing business leaders crave is stability, yet here we are with the worst possible outcome – a hung parliament and a weakened hand in the Brexit negotiations. It is the exact opposite of the “strong and stable” leadership we were promised.
At the time of writing,Theresa May seems hell-bent on staying in power, and is on the cusp of formalising a deal with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, whose controversial policies are by now well documented. The rhetoric from Brussels has been unsympathetic at best.
What we need over the coming months is as much certainty as can be mustered
For our sector, the turmoil this has created in the already unstable currency markets is a matter of grave concern. Sterling, already in a weakened state, faces a further battering in the months ahead. When I met with one product director last Friday morning, the first thing she mentioned as we settled into our seats was the exchange rate – and this has been a theme of our conversations with industry contacts ever since.
What we need over the coming months is as much certainty as can be mustered. A clear negotiating stance with the European Union would be a good place to start. Which is it, a soft Brexit or a hard one? Are we in or out of the single market and customs union? We don’t want to lose the opportunity to gain more control over trade deals and to strike new arrangements with markets such as the US, India and China. But it would be better to know now than carry on in this state of limbo.
On a more positive note, at the Drapers Operations Forum last week, we heard from operations and supply chain experts on how they are coping with the fluctuating exchange rates and general uncertainty. Comfortingly, many were stoic: there is nothing we can do about Brexit, they shrugged, so why worry about it?
Of course Brexit is piling on the pressure, but retail operations directors are accustomed to challenges. The advice from our excellent line-up of speakers included working more closely with suppliers, and looking at where your fabrics and trims are coming from in case the Conservatives opt for a hard Brexit and import duties would inevitably follow.
The clear message I took away from the Forum is that there are plenty of steps retailers can take now to future-proof their businesses so they thrive whatever the outcome of the Brexit talks.