We speak to a range of KBB suppliers for their views on whether the UK should stay in or leave the EU
‘The last thing we need is a ruddy referendum…’
We should stay in. Having just come out of a recession that’s lasted six years, the last thing we need is a ruddy referendum on this now. I’m frustrated that it’s the Tory party trying to solve their impossible problem of half their party wanting to get out of Europe and half of them wanting to stay in. So they’re putting it out to the wider public and it’s an absolute disaster. We’ve seen the collapse of sterling against the euro and against the dollar as a result. If you’re an exporter, that’s fantastic news, but for people like ourselves it’s not at all good and it creates massive uncertainty.
The arguments aren’t really being put forward by either side to enable people to make a decision. Do people understand that if we vote to leave it will take two years before we can? And if it’s 51% to 49%, do we go? Does anyone know? What if we only get a 30% turnout?
I read the FT every day where there’s fantastic analysis and my decision is an emotional one – I’m pro EU, not pro euro. But if you read the detail, who do you believe? My daughter has got a right to go to university in France or Spain and it won’t cost her anything. If we get out of the EU, she won’t be able to do that. It’s so interwoven and there’s shades of the Scottish referendum. I’m sure there are things we haven’t even considered yet.
We will be writing to our staff to vote to stay in the EU, so that will be maybe another 148 votes.
We just don’t need uncertainty and, if we vote to leave, the uncertainty will go on for two or three years. Absolute disaster. The ‘in-work benefits’ that David Cameron has negotiated have cost us £30 million. They spend as much as that on driverless vehicles.
We’ve also got the refugee crisis, which is all about Syria and the collapse of the Middle East. We’ve got those terrible problems whether we’re in Europe or not. There’s got to be a unified approach and we’re better at the heart of it and influencing it than being stuck on the outside.
Gary Favell, chief executive officer, bathstore
‘I’m more out than in…’
The majority of what we do transactionally is through the Far East, so we’re governed by the dollar more than anything. What do I think as an individual? Most employment in the UK is created from an entrepreneurial standpoint. If you look over recent years, most of the jobs that have been created have come from the likes of entrepreneurs. So, as far as I’m concerned, I have a mixed view at the moment. I’m more on the out side at this precise time, concerned with what it does to the dollar. But, people have to make their own choices as individuals. The growth that we’ve created in the UK – if you look at the stats – has come from the entrepreneurs within the UK. We haven’t had any growth from the big internationals. Relationships with many of the manufacturers in Europe will have to be secured in some way.
Matt Phillips, head of UK sales, Rotpunkt
‘It’s an even split…’
I’m on the fence, I’m not really sure what side I’m on yet, but Rotpunkt as a company would say stay in. I don’t necessarily think it would have an effect on the industry either way though. I think if you’re popular and if there is a demand for a product, it’s made-to-order, bespoke, with an existing customer base, there should be nothing to worry about. But nobody really knows, so I think it’s a case of watch this space.
When you look at the polls, it’s very much an even split because people are uncertain of what will happen. There are still a few more twists and turns to come. But at the moment it isn’t affecting business. We’re up already by 30% and we were up last year by 25%, so in the past four years we’ve grown substantially. Maybe in August we might be in a different place.
‘Leaving might make it easier to compete…’
We have more important things to worry about. Either way, the decision is not going to matter to us specifically as most of our business is produced and sold in the UK, we’re not exporting.
If you’re a big exporter, it may have more of an impact, but we haven’t debated it too much. It may have an impact in terms of the strength of the pound if we’re buying things from abroad. The reality is all of the secondary and tertiary supply base is probably here in the UK and it might stimulate that if we’re being forced to buy from a UK supply base rather than from abroad.
Let’s assume we leave and the pound devalues, actually it will be less attractive to Germans and Italians to be building businesses in the UK and they might take the long-term view. History suggests that some of them won’t, but we might end up with a situation in the UK where it’s easier to compete because there are fewer European competitors to compete with.
Interestingly, an RBS report showed a huge difference as to where the pound will end up against the euro, depending on which way the decision goes. That report basically suggests it will be parity or it could be 160 in three months. If you’re a flexible company, you just react to the environment around you – everybody will still be in business, everybody will still be making kitchens, we’ll just be doing things differently to react to what’s gone on. Our view is – we’ll find out what happens and just deal with it.
You look at the recession. A lot of people lost 50% of their revenue and did they go out of business? No, they just changed. The decision can’t be any worse than that.
‘There’s more to it than in or out…’
In simple terms, we should stay in. However, it’s not quite as simple as that – there are lots of other factors. But, for me personally, and from a business point of view, we need to be even further into Europe. I’m probably one of the few people that’s all for the euro, but having said that on a business level, that perhaps may not have been the best thing to have done over the past few years because of its weakness. In terms of trading, we are a part of Europe. I feel I am a British person that is also European. I think that’s the best way forward.
We personally don’t import from Europe and we don’t rely on Europe for any of our business. Our business is very much UK-based and our manufacturing plant is in the Middle East. So, I don’t think it would have an impact on my business and in how I run the business.
If we decide to come out, it would be a massive change. I think people will get wrapped up in that and we would be entering into the unknown. They’d think, do I renovate my kitchen? What’s going to happen next month? What’s going to happen in six months? Do I do my kitchen or bathroom? Do I move house?
So I think it actually creates more questions than answers. It would be an uncertain time and that would have a negative impact on consumer confidence, which would then impact on retailers and businesses in the UK.
‘Commerce is infinitely more powerful than politics’
I live in Scotland, so I’ve just been through this. It was a whole catalogue of misinformation from both sides. It was about fear, not about anything positive. It gives you the impression that nobody is giving any firm or accurate statistics of what will actually happen. Nobody knows. It’ll come down to better the devil you know than the devil you don’t. That’s what happened in Scotland. Come the day it was, ‘er, we’ll just stay how we are’.
But what will actually happen I don’t know. We are better to manage the interests of our country. We don’t need Europe. The best country to manage Scotland is Scotland, not Westminster. Westminster does what’s right for London and the South-East.
Commerce is infinitely more powerful than politics. All the business that goes on between the UK and Europe will carry on, because commercial interest is powerful. People aren’t just going to say, ‘we’re not in the EU any longer so we’re not going to deal with them’. That’s rubbish.
Immigration is the big issue for me. It’s a basic principle of the EU that you have freedom of movement across borders. So every poor country is going to automatically be attracted by every wealthy country.
Eventually we’ll end up with everybody being the same.
David Osborne, managing director, Roman
‘What’s in it for us..?’
Q: Do you think the UK should stay in the EU?
A: Not at all. You show me someone who actually runs a business, who owns a corner shop and wants to remain in the EU. What’s on offer? What’s in it? There’s nothing is there? If there were a deal or an alternative, you’d go along with North America as an alliance. At the moment with business, you’re talking about management risk and for me the risk is clear. There’s a lot of uncertainty.
Q: What impact do you think leaving the EU would have on manufacturers and retailers?
A: We don’t know and that’s the point. We don’t know what’s outside, you don’t know what you don’t know. I would like to think that the impact isn’t ridiculous, but I can’t see how Europe would take it nicely. We’re the biggest customers and European dealers.
Q: Do you think it would disrupt business?
A: It has to. I can’t see a scenario where it wouldn’t disrupt business for the UK.
If it does happen, I’m sure we’ll adapt and find ways of doing things.
‘People are confused…’’
There are two completely different questions and two sides to yes/no. There’s the business/economics side of it and the immigration side of it and people are confusing the two. And that is the problem.
‘We’ll adapt to whatever happens…’
From a personal per-spective I hope we stay in Europe, and from a business perspective, we hope we’ll stay in. But we know that we’ll adapt to whatever happens.
If you look at the economics of it and whether it’s more beneficial for the UK to be a part of Europe or to be on the outside looking in, then I believe it’s more beneficial to be part of it. We compete every day with the Italians, the Germans and the Chinese etc and that’s not going to change whether we’re in or out. The synergies we can have with our neighbours in Europe are important and help us to develop good business ties and move forward.
One of the things we do get quite beaten up with is currency rates and exchanges against the pound. In the past two years, the Italians have been able to beat us on any quotation just because of currency differences. So, if we were all dealing in the same currency that would not be an issue.
‘Leaving would be foolish…’
We’d be foolish to come out, because I think there’s more value being in Europe than coming out, particularly for Insinkerator and other suppliers that deal across all of Europe. It’s a tough one. If we start closing borders… it’s a debate that will go on and on and on.
Because of the diversity of Britain, there’s a 50/50 chance of which way the vote will go. It’s not a one-sided issue. It’s too close to call at the moment. I think the polls will fluctuate up until the referendum.
It’s more beneficial for us as a nation to remain in Europe. Once you’re in there you have a voice, when you’re not part of the EU it is going to be difficult to have a voice.
Personally, I’m not sure how much impact either decision will have on the KBB industry. If the vote is to leave, then we’ll have to live with it and adapt. I don’t think it will have a detrimental effect either way.
Bill Miller, managing director, KBBG
‘We’re better off staying in…’
There are too many unknowns if we come out and personally that’s what I believe will ultimately swing the argument in favour of staying in. It’s a bit like the Scottish referendum. There was a very powerful story for them to become independent and there’s an equally passionate, vociferous group about leaving the EU, but ultimately, common sense will prevail because there are just too many unknowns.
What will tell is when you get some of the big employers, like Honda and Nissan saying what the detrimental effect of leaving will be, like the Bank of England and HSBC have already, giving their views about the negative impact on the economy if we leave the EU.
From a personal perspective, the EU is definitely not the most efficient organisation but I definitely think we’re better off staying in. You can only effect change by being in, you can’t effect change by being on the sidelines. I think there would be a lot of bitter feeling among countries like France and Germany if we came out and I think it would have a huge detrimental effect on trade if we left.
On the flip side, if we do come out, I don’t think the decision will have a detrimental effect on the industry per se.
I still think companies like Störmer, BSH and Miele, for example, would still be here. I don’t think it will affect this industry in terms of trade. European companies and brands will still want to trade with the UK whether we’re in Europe or not.
Ben Allan, creative director, Multiwood
‘An exit would strengthen the economy…’
It wouldn’t affect business. The UK has such a powerful economy at the moment, you look at the rest of Europe and the UK is on its own. Spain, Italy, France and Germany aren’t doing well, but the UK is. If we say we don’t want to be part of the EU, they still need to supply us and they will need business from us. So, if anything, an exit would strengthen the economy.
It’s the politics and publicity in the media. It’s scaremongering. So everyone gets a bit nervous, but as soon as it’s passed, it’s forgotten about and everything functions as it did before.
‘Big business wants to stay…’
I’d stay in without question. From a business perspective, if you listen to many of the big businesses out there like Virgin Atlantic, they want to stay in. I think it’s the right decision. We’ll see in June.
The fear is that, as we get closer to it, it’ll have a detrimental effect on people’s purchasing decisions. That’s normally what happens in the run-up to General Elections. It was the same when they were debating the referendum in Scotland in 2014.
The sooner we can get it out the way and move on the better. People don’t know enough about it to debate it, but I’m not sure the politicians do either. Not even Boris Johnson has come out with anything that’s struck a chord as yet.