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Brexit and the future: Business planning for 2021

Written by Karen Holden on Wednesday, 10 February 2021. Posted in Commercial law, Legal

Against the odds, the UK left the EU with a deal (the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement). However, this deal makes surprisingly few references to some services and many argue that for some, there has still been a hard Brexit.

Brexit and the future: Business planning for 2021

Against the odds, the UK left the EU with a deal (the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement). However, this deal makes surprisingly few references to some services and many argue that for some, there has still been a hard Brexit. Due to Brexit and Covid-19, there are so many changes that have come in and are still to be adopted and agreed, so how can you prepare as a business?

As leaders of businesses begin making plans for 2021, they need to think beyond just this year to make an orderly exit from the COVID-19 crisis and anticipate the post-Brexit world, but it is changing daily and still largely unknown.

Planning for 2021

The pandemic has, in one positive way, accelerated many major trends that were shaping economies, which includes a shift to online commerce, increased reliance on tech and the prevalence of home working/flexible working.  

The most resilient and successful companies have reacted faster, bolder and are more flexible than their less resilient counterparts. So, it is important companies adopt new approaches and adapt quickly if they are to stay strong. 

Robust leadership in order to make rapid and strategic decisions has proven vital to success during these uncertain times. So, companies must focus on training, staff motivation and integration along with management as this is essential for your business to be able to thrive. 

Although the paths for different industries will vary, there are overall principles which will be key for all businesses planning for 2021 and life after the pandemic and a trade deal, this includes taking the following steps:

  • Plan for a range of scenarios that may face your business, cancellations, breach of contract performance, debts and new competition. The re-emergence of China, whose GDP is back to a pre-crisis level, is an example of the type of bounce back we could see across the United Kingdom and Europe following the rollout of the vaccines.
  • Anchor your 2021/22 plans in your company’s 2019 trajectory, and not that of 2020. We can be relatively sure that 2021’s levels of uncertainty will not mirror that of 2020 now that we have greater knowledge about the virus and how to control it. Businesses should plan with greater certainty that the worst is behind and that 2019 will be a better predictor of growth trajectories of 2021/2022 as a baseline for corporate planning.
  • Begin launching company initiatives now and make 2021 a year of transition to a COVID-19 & Brexit exit and greater predictability in 2022. Assess the potential of your business and execute growth initiatives to capitalise on the economic resurgence that will follow as normality resumes after the pandemic. 
  • Audit your contracts and policies in line with not only government guidance, new legislation but also in line with your new agile business and planning. Make sure they are robust to protect you, compliant and engaged with your staff so that it’s understood and followed.

The companies that will succeed and have done well during the current crisis can turn their advantage into strong positions for years to come. Struggling companies can use the COVID-19 era as an opportunity to transform their businesses and join the eventual winners. 

Legislative changes

To help businesses best prepare and get on top of 2021, we expect the following major changes to be put into legislation this year:

  • The Online Harms Bill. This is set to be a big priority for the government as the protection of people online, especially young people, is a large public concern at the moment.

This Bill will likely impose a greater duty of care on larger services like YouTube and Facebook to remove unlawful or harmful material. We expect the definition of online harm to be extremely contested but it is recommended that all businesses, however large, get on top of their public and private forums to ensure they are as safe as possible.

Whilst there is a fine line to draw between this type of legislation and freedom of expression, we have seen harmful content explode in recent years, and change is certainly welcome. The fact that Trump has been banned from most social media is a leading example of both its power and danger. Fines are expected to be the punishment for any perpetrating platforms and there has been talk of criminal offences for senior management.  

  • Data Privacy. A big worry was that we would need to revisit our GDPR compliance. Thankfully, experts do not expect the government to depart from current regulation in the coming years as there is no incentive to make it even more difficult for businesses to operate and most of the relevant laws are enshrined in our own data protection laws.

Whilst we will know more as time goes on, as the UK and EU regulation drifts further apart, it is important to note that if there is a cross-jurisdiction data breach, claims and decisions can be brought in different jurisdictions and may have very different outcomes. We recommend that UK companies ensure their current data protection policies and processes are airtight and regularly monitored. More importantly, businesses need to keep up with any changes and regulatory guidance to avoid problems.

About the Author

Karen Holden

Karen Holden

Karen Holden is an award-winning solicitor, media commentator and founder of A City Law Firm. She was one of 100 women invited into the Freedom of the City last year, an accolade previously bestowed upon Florence Nightingale and Margaret Thatcher. Karen specialises in advising businesses about scaling-up, starting up, investments, Brexit, Covid-19 and everything in between.

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