Panto is over, but political farce continues16 January 2019
Continued lack of clarity over Brexit is causing inevitable economic uncertainty and stress, but the timber sector and Timber Trade Federation is focused on business development regardless, writes TTF managing director David Hopkins
The defining characteristic of the British people is said to be our sense of humour. Looking ahead to 2019, I can’t help feeling we’re going to need it, as there are several things which look set to test the national funny-bone.
Firstly, it seems unlikely that the punch line to the ongoing Brexit shaggy-dog story will be delivered anytime soon. After two years of strategy-free blundering, which has included two Brexit secretaries resigning over outcomes they themselves negotiated, Mrs May being unable to exit her car let alone the EU, and, most recently, a £13.8m government contract awarded to a ferry company which has no ferries to operate, our prime minister has had to delay the parliamentary vote on the fi nal withdrawal deal, in order to run down the clock and beg for support among MPs.
Regardless of whether the deal is good or bad, the dithering over the decision to hold a vote only adds to business uncertainty. With the majority of timber in the UK coming via imports, our members need to know what sort of customs and duty regimes they will be facing and what sort of market. How can they plan ahead when there’s no clear picture of what the next 12 months look like?
As members know, the TTF has been lobbying through the year to maintain a favourable customs and trading framework for our sector. However, that framework could vary considerably depending on which deal scenario prevails. At the time of writing bets are off as to whether we get a deal, no-deal, delay to Article 50, a new referendum, or even a general election. Many of our members have consequently been putting Brexit contingency measures in place; importing and stockpiling throughout the past year to weather any storm.
In the meantime, the uncertainty and lack of clarity is already having a negative impact on the wider economy, which will inevitably impact timber.
Construction forecasts seem particularly hard hit, particularly in the RMI and commercial sectors, although, thankfully, demand for new residential property remains strong and the housebuilding sector is likely to maintain growth.
Despite all this uncertainty, however, the world will not be ending and the economy won’t stop moving. Our softwood forecast shows some growth, albeit slower than in previous years, but some growth is better than none. In response to continued workforce pressures, the TTF will also be putting a renewed focus on education and training during 2019, particularly in sales and marketing, with the launch of the new “TTF Foundation in Sales Management” coming toward the end of Q1.
I also do not believe we will end up on negative terms with our European partners. I watched Dutch and German TV on various trips this past year and saw their game shows, satires and news programmes having one thing in common: Brexit is the butt of most of their comedy.
So, it’s a good job we have this famous sense of humour. The joke is clearly on us.