Brexit back on menu for UK consultants

Love it or loathe it, one thing is clear—Brexit has had a significant and prolonged impact on the UK consulting market. In late 2016 and early 2017 there was a flurry of scenario planning work in the wake of the referendum, and then the protracted Brexit process loomed heavy over the UK consulting market for the next three years, with clients often reluctant to make major investments and slower to make sweeping changes until they knew exactly what Brexit meant.

Fast-forward to the present day, and a lot has changed.

Not only did COVID-19 overtake Brexit as the biggest cloud hanging over the market last year, but the UK signed the Trade and Cooperation Agreement with the EU and brought another chapter of Brexit uncertainty to a close. That doesn’t mean Brexit is done and dusted for consultants though. Having seen the pandemic usurp its place as the top concern in the market last year, Brexit looks set to make a rapid return as a key driver of consulting demand for 2021. Indeed, in our latest survey of UK clients, 86% told us they expect Brexit will have an impact on their business. And despite the prolonged period between the referendum and the UK actually leaving the EU, only 46% of clients believe they are well prepared to deal with post-Brexit change. That leaves a solid 54% of respondents still needing to do at least some work to get themselves ready for the challenges of life outside the EU, and that’s going to involve consultants.

In even better news for consultants, UK clients are planning to ask consultants to help them take advantage of new opportunities that they expect to arise now the UK has left the EU, with much of this work likely to be even more complex than the scenario planning of the early days of Brexit. Post-Brexit work is combining in Voltron-esque style with the ongoing evolution of the post-pandemic world to generate wide-reaching opportunities for consultants around the supply chain, HR & people, and strategy, among other areas.

As for who the biggest beneficiaries will be, the Big Four and technology firms are top of that particular pile, with 69% of respondents telling us they plan to make at least some use of each firm type for this work. But it would appear that there is plenty of work to go around. Even those at the bottom of clients’ lists—restructuring firms and boutiques—see nearly half of respondents expecting to send at least some post-Brexit work their way. So, it really is a case of good news all around. And it means that 2021 looks set to be a much better year for the UK’s consultants, with Brexit a key player in making it so.

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