On the topic of ‘future-proofing’ businesses ahead of Brexit, John Treacy, General Manager at Fermanagh Enterprise revealed that some businesses are opening offices on the “other side of the Border”.

During a panel discussion at the South West College Brexit ‘The Student Voice’ conference, Mr. Treacy said: “We are seeing some evidence of Brexit proofing. We see some evidence of our micro-business clients planning around Brexit by opening an office on the other side of the Border. We are seeing that a little bit from Southern companies, we have more Southern companies looking for offices in Enniskillen. Equally some of our local businesses are doing exactly the same thing.”

He added: “There is some planning but they are just making enquiries at this stage as opposed to taking active decisions.”

Mr. Treacy was joined on the panel by David Brown, Deputy President Ulster Farmers Union and Carol Viney, Head of Faculty, Professional and Social Sciences at South West College. During the discussion they each answered questions on the impact of Brexit posed by the Level Three Business students. Rodney Edwards, Deputy Editor of The Impartial Reporter was MC of the panel discussion.

When asked if he had many concerns of how Brexit will impact farmers, Mr. Brown said: “There are huge implications in relation to some of the aspects of Brexit. The tariff schedule which was proposed on March 13, was reinforced last week in Westminster despite us challenging many of the tariffs that had been put in place.”

Sharing an example of how dairy farmers could be impacted by tariffs as a result of Brexit, Mr. Brown said: “Currently with prices around 24.5p per litre, the tariff on milk were it to go across the Border would be 16p so effectively it could not happen because ultimately no farmer can produce milk at 8p.”

Mr. Brown explained that one third of milk produced in Northern Ireland goes to the Republic of Ireland and if that milk was unable to go there, there would not be the capacity in Northern Ireland to process all that milk.

“We have looked at the possibility of that milk being exported across into the mainland but they do not have the capacity on the mainland to process all that milk. We have made that argument very clearly and very strongly to the government,” said Mr. Brown.

Responding to whether he thinks Boris Johnson understands the concerns of farmers in Fermanagh, Mr. Brown, who is a part-time farmer himself, said: “Ultimately at the end of the day Boris is trying to get a deal and given that one or two per cent of the population in the UK come from an agricultural background I don’t think in Boris’ eyes we are that high on the agenda.”

Noting how he was recently involved in a meeting with Theresa Villiers, Secretary of State for the Environment, Mr. Brown said: “Every single sector sat around a table and represented the problems and difficulties for their sector.”

He continued: “She told us she understood. She then did an interview where she said, ‘we will support farmers, but we can’t quantify what that support might be’.”

Commenting on whether he thinks Brexit will bring opportunities to local businesses, Mr. Treacy said that views have been “mostly negative” as a lot of businesses trade across the Border.

He continued: “The Northern Ireland economy is in, maybe recession is not the right word, but confidence has dropped. Brexit is sometimes blamed for that kind of thing.”

When asked what advice they would give to the students of South West College, Mr. Treacy encouraged the students to consider working for themselves. He said: “In Fermanagh we have higher micro-business start up trade than anywhere else in Northern Ireland. These are people who put up their hands and say I want to be responsible for my own economic future. That’s absolutely commendable.

“There’s a very decent support structure for anyone wishing to do that.”

Ms. Viney added: “I say to the students, soak it in, take everything you can from your lecturer, and use it and go out there and get experience.”