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Advice reminder for businesses trading with EU

Businesses in the Folkestone & Hythe district still getting to grips with trading in and out of the European Union are being encouraged to take advantage of the help available.

Wooden building blocks

Webinars and videos have been produced by central government designed to help businesses and traders find answers. They cover topics including importing and exporting goods, moving goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and details of the government's cross-border trade forum.

Other sources of information are available including those listed by Folkestone Works and also by Kent County Council.

Councillor David Wimble, F&HDC's Cabinet Member for Economic Development, said: "It has been a challenging start to the year for some of our district's businesses. They have had to cope with the difficulties of the continuing COVID pandemic. In addition those that trade with the EU have had to get their heads around the additional complications of working out the new import and export rules.

"There is information out there for companies who are trading in and out of the EU and I would urge all to take advantage of the help available to understand the new processes."

Six weeks after the new rules were introduced the managing director of one of the district's businesses talks about  the importance of sourcing the right  advice.

Liz IrelandLiz Ireland (pictured left) is clearly not someone who is daunted by a challenge. It's probably one of the reasons why she and husband Peter have made such a success of their Folkestone toy business Bigjigs.

But as far as challenges go, the last 12 months have been a year like no other, even for Liz. It has been ten months of operating under the shadow of COVID alongside second guessing the consequences for the family business of leaving Europe.

The former teacher is, however, upbeat and seemingly undaunted: "It has been challenging and at times all encompassing. It has been a massive learning curve but in business you have to evolve and change and do new things. You have to learn."

Bigjigs began in a garden shed with Peter hand crafting wooden jigsaws which he and Liz sold at craft fairs. Three decades on the company is now based on the Park Farm Industrial Estate, employs 47 people and distributes a vast array of wooden toys to customers and distributors in more than 90 countries.

The toys, with their emphasis on developing key skills through play, are mostly designed in Folkestone, and then manufactured in the Far East using rubberwood which is a bi-product of the latex production process.

At their busiest times of the year, Bigjigs have been sending 15 to 20 orders to trade customers in Europe every day. So knowing that 20% to 25% of their annual turnover depended on being able to trade in Europe, Liz started early with her research about leaving the EU.

Over the last two years she admits that she has done a lot of reading and the Bigjigs team, which includes the Irelands two sons, have been finding out as much as they can about new taxation, duty and transport processes.

Specialist help

Liz explained: "We first started doing business in Europe at the end of 2009 and it took a good six months to work out currencies, language and to find out about the diverse markets. In one country, France for example, there can be vast differences even just between the north and south and east and west.

"When the result of the vote was announced we asked ourselves - to maintain the level of business we have built up what would be the constraints? The problem has been that even now I am not sure we really know the full answer to that.

"There will be a lot of companies who have spent vast amounts of money in trying to get good advice. We got a reasonable amount of good advice in June but we needed fresh advice in November and December to learn about other proposed changes ."

Due to the complexities of their particular business model, Liz and the team finally sourced the specialist help that they needed from Holland.

After the first weeks Liz does not feel that they are ready to put the tick in the box to indicate that they have everything sorted for this new, complex way of doing business with the EU.

But they are heading in the right direction and when asked whether she has ever felt like giving up Liz replied: "No, never - it's just another challenge and we will work our way through it. They key is getting the right guidance and the right help."

Date published:  9 February 2021

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