Welcome to post-Brexit Britain where UK firms still come last

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City Voices: Time for some loyalty and patriotism


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Finally, it looks like Brexit is over, and we can move on. Whose? This is not an anti-Brexit observation, but one directed at those responsible for making sure we enjoy the benefits of leaving the EU, ahem. The omens are not good.

So far, there has been little sign of a “Brexit dividend”. We do not feel that we have left the EU and there are benefits to come.

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A case has come to the fore this week. French company Sodexo has been awarded the contract to carry out post-Brexit border checks. It beat out London-listed Wincanton to run the inland border facilities for HM Revenue and Customs.

Wincanton has a current contract worth £71 million. The work will now be transferred to Sodexo in June this year.

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The stock market gave its verdict, with Wincanton’s shares falling by almost a quarter and wiping over £100 million off the company’s value. The British firm said it was “extremely disappointed” that it had not been awarded a new contract. It’s polite corporate speak for a mood that’s uncharacteristic here.

Vincanton has every right to be angry. It is a solid company, specializing in warehousing, logistics and transportation. If that doesn’t sound like it should check the border, Sodexo is known to be a contract caterer, second only to Compass in Europe. But Sodexo is a bigger organisation, with a market capitalization of £12 billion compared to Wincanton’s £300 million. The French corporation is branching out into all kinds of services, hence the pitch to HMRC.

The British losers, it is admitted, had done nothing wrong in the fulfillment of the existing contract. In fact it had hit the target ahead of time.

Clearly, the current border-checking campaign is expanding beyond warehousing to a “wider range of services”. Sodexo, felt by HMRC, was better placed to take on this additional activity. Destroy the idea that poor Britain has been underpriced by a huge international operator.

This is all too reminiscent of what happened in 2018 with the UK passport-making contract after Brexit. Instead of going to De La Rue, the British supplier of old passports, it went to the Franco-Dutch firm Gemalto. De La Rue’s share price never recovered.

Now, with WinCanton, we go again. However, this should not have happened. Brexit was meant to give us the freedom to favor the domestic supplier.

HMRC could argue that Wincanton was not up to the job, but surely he could have been trained and assisted? In the European Union that would be forbidden as an unfair use of state aid. but hello? We are no longer in the European Union. There would be nothing to stop HMRC awarding the work to Wincanton and there was nothing Sodexo could do about it.

Such inertia is worrying. If we are going to enjoy the fruits of independence from the EU we need to start helping ourselves, our people.

Not only is this good for the economy, for tax receipts (the revenue side of HMRC, please note) but it creates jobs, training, development of new skills. Had WinCanton been awarded this business, it would have emerged as a stronger, better company, better equipped to win similar orders around the world.

Whitehall must see Preston. Yes Preston in Lancashire. Over the years, its council has deliberately implemented a policy of “progressive procurement”, sourcing as much of the goods and services needed locally and avoiding outsiders. The result is the North-West of England enjoying relative healthy growth and strong employment, despite being in an economically vulnerable area.

There’s no reason the Preston experience can’t be translated nationwide. However, this requires a radical change in attitude and not taking the easy route and basing everything on price. Such an approach is short-sighted and harmful to Britain. Please, start realizing this: we’ve left the EU, we can do whatever we want. More imagination and loyalty, is needed to create that patriotism.

Chris Blackhurst is the author of Too Big to Jail: Inside HSBC, the Mexican Drug Cartels and the Greatest Banking Scandal of the Century (Macmillan).

Credit: www.standard.co.uk /

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