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2021: A year in review


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  • Feb 26,2024
  • By Admin

To say that 2021 has been a challenging year for businesses borders on the understatement.

While Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic were upheavals which will live long in the memory, they were not the only hurdles businesses had to leap in the face of mounting risk of closure. For one, the UK in particular has been hamstrung by the collapse of the supply chain – the issues underpinning supply had been minimised for years by a miraculous act of spinning plates; in the face of a pandemic and economic upheaval, they were bound to fall, causing significant disruption for consumers and businesses alike.

Positively, however business closures in 2021 have been significantly down from 2020. Further, following the near-10% GDP crash seen in the first year of the pandemic, the economy has rebounded healthily – now only 0.5% short of pre-pandemic productivity, UK businesses have proven to be extremely resilient in the face of hardship.

Of course, aggregate figures don’t tell us the full story– organisations in many sectors are still struggling with the burden of diminished footfall, the threat of further lockdowns and travel restrictions limiting their trading opportunities.

So, how have UK businesses fared throughout this year, and how are they really positioned to advance into 2022?

Pandemic disruption rumbles on

 Much of this year has been dampened by lockdown restrictions; and the rise of the Omicron variant in recent weeks has raised further alarm for business capacity in 2022.

The effects were far-reaching. A recent survey found that one hundred percent of businesses had to adapt their operations in some way because of the pandemic. More than four in ten (43%) placed staff on furlough, while one third (30%) were forced to make at least one team member redundant.

More positively, with physical retail shuttered, unreliable staffing levels due to isolation requirements many business activities shifted online. Indeed, eCommerce has experienced an impressive rise – and many businesses have translated their offering to match this trend.

Naturally, it is impossible to make any firm predictions for what lies ahead – even when looking ahead at the coming weeks, many businesses (hospitality, in particular) face continued uncertainty. Nearly two years on from the onset of the pandemic, businesses have had to adapt to this new reality for the long-term; hopefully these organisations will continue to demonstrate their resilience to changing circumstances as we head into the new year.

Brexit yet to take shape

 The turn of the year will also mark a significant anniversary – one year since the implementation of Brexit. Of course, complications imposed by the pandemic combined with the eleventh-hour agreement on the final terms of the deal, led to a confused assessment on its impact. Businesses found themselves improvising solutions to new rules, such as customs arrangements or shipping procedures. In turn, January saw a significant decline in export trade from the UK.

As with the pandemic, the settling in period has been a considered success, with interesting new opportunities starting to emerge.

In research commissioned recently by One World Express, UK exporters reported heightened confidence in their ability to trade overseas; with three quarters (76%) predicting their business would gain an established foothold in a new international market by the end of 2026. More than two thirds (68%) had observed increased demand for their goods from non-EU countries this year, with 67% of respondents chalking this up in part to the positive global reputation of British products for good quality and prestige.

This optimism is well-placed. New free trade agreements with established and emerging economy are being struck with increasing frequency, including a landmark agreement this month with Australia. While these deals are not without their critics, they go some way to delivering on the promise of Brexit for businesses to set their ambitions globally. Brand UK, and the diligence of British businesses to capitalise on new opportunities, should combine to make for a brighter picture for UK exports in the coming months and years.

Heading into 2022, then, it is critical that businesses maintain the resilience to adversity which they have demonstrated over 2021, and indeed 2020. With the right support and operational processes in place, businesses should be able to balance pandemic caution and expansionary exploration. Seeking the help of global shipping and logistics experts, and investing early in logistics tech, will position businesses to access exciting new trading opportunities in new territories, with considered planning affording a minimised risk of costly failure.