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East Anglian firms dig in, stock up and brace themselves against hard Brexit

PUBLISHED: 16:24 08 January 2019 | UPDATED: 16:57 08 January 2019

Skinner's pet foods factory in Stradbroke, Eye has engaged in a Brexit-proofing strategy  PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

Skinner's pet foods factory in Stradbroke, Eye has engaged in a Brexit-proofing strategy PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

Jamie Honeywood Archant Norwich Norfolk

East Anglian firms are taking practical measures to shield themselves against extreme Brexit scenarios as the political turmoil around the UK’s exit from the European Union continues to cast uncertainty over future trading conditions.

Suffolk petfood firm Skinner’s has locked in one-year’s worth of procurement contracts to protect itself against any kind of Brexit, including a no-deal scenario. It has also delayed plans for export expansion into Europe as the Brexit row rumbles on.

Stowmarket malt firm Muntons, in line with many firms, has applied for Authorised Economic Operator status to enable it to pass goods through customs with as little friction as possible.

MORE – Is Brexit uncertainty bearing down on Suffolk’s economy? Economic report shows clouds on the horizon

Meanwhile, one of the beneficiaries is storage facility Filing Fortress, based at Horham, near Eye, which is planning a significant expansion of its warehousing this year, with a scheme to double it to 25,000sq ft as demand for storage space soars.

Skinner’s boss Des Smith, who joined a year ago, set in motion a Brexit plan almost immediately in order to protect the firm from any turbulence.

Although exports make up just 3% of the Stradbroke-based firm’s £17m turnover, and the firm does not envisage a lot of issues, there were some ingredients it had to import such as rice. It was looking to source more ingredients more locally, he said.

“The other thing we have done is purchased ahead so hopefully with our procurement strategy we are ahead. That’s something we have definitely looked at here,” he said. The firm is also planning to expand its storage facilities to hold more bulk stock. Muntons group finance director Andy Simpson said: “Amongst a number of benefits, achieving AEO status will mean a faster application process for customs simplifications and authorisations, so will be very helpful whatever happens with Brexit and should be in place before the Brexit deadline.

“We are quite lucky because most of our raw materials are from the UK – our barley is grown in the UK – and our big export market is the Middle East and the US. We are also fortunate to be near Felixstowe, which is quite efficient compared to some of the other ports.”

Stuart McBurney of Filing Fortress said he had seen a marked upsurge in demand for storage. “With this Brexit thing it’s causing (warehousing) prices to go all over the place,” he said. One potential customer importing sportwear via Felixstowe port had been looking at relocating his storage to Ireland as a result of a 20% rise in his UK storage costs. “We have had an upsurge in demand from people who are worried, who run a just in time system,” he said. “Some unscrupulous people are capitalising on this and putting prices up.”

On the haulage side of the business, he was finding manufacturers were stocking up on raw materials and components because of worries over price rises, he said.

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