Marilise Saghbini took office in early autumn 2020 amid the Covid-19 crisis and Brexit brewing. “It happened to us in the face without really knowing what was going to happen, she remembers. I said to myself “it is really not only a key moment for French or European companies that are in the UK, but also an opportunity for the Chamber to play its added value role by representing a greater path than any company or even sector can have alone. » This is the first time that the French Chamber of Commerce in Great Britain has been led by a Brit and not a Frenchwoman. “I worked in many business networks, but also with the British government and European institutions and for a time in Brussels, explains Mrs. Saghbini. Therefore, I know perfectly well the British ecosystem to better fill the gap with French companies. »
old business links
The French Chamber of Commerce in Great Britain has existed since 1883. “This longevity is reassuring, it means that we have nevertheless turned a corner and that we feel well equipped to weather storms like Brexit” attests to Marilise Saghbini, herself from the French-speaking community of London, a graduate of the Lycée Français Charles de Gaulle. On the one hand, the Chamber offers practical services to companies: “It’s about settlements, domiciliation, help, accounting, bilingual, etc., list the director. We really worked hard on adapting and how to navigate after Brexit, we were able to give the best advice to French companies looking to set up or grow in the British market. » The Chamber is proud, for example, of having managed to attract new French companies to the UK since the divorce from the European Union. “We were supported by the “export recovery” check which greatly encouraged French companies to come and see what is happening in the British market. It is true that trade ties between the two countries have long existed. »
A market dominated by services
The Chamber’s second mission, and no less important, is the exchange of best practices among member companies via networking. “The idea, explains Mrs Saghbini, is to bring them together to discuss topics such as: how are you managing the big post-Brexit challenges? How is your import-export business going? etc “ The Chamber has 400 members from all sectors, 60% SMEs and 40% multinationals. It is also in touch with an additional 200 customers on practical services that can be accessed without being a member. “There are all the big French companies present here and, as we reflect the British market, we are dominated by the service sector” says Mrs. Saghbini. According to her, the results of Brexit a year later can be divided into three points: “The first is the commerce and exchange of goods. from 1er January 2021, there is in fact a very clear increase in terms and prices for companies. » According to a study conducted among members of the Chamber of Commerce, 82% of companies surveyed say their logistics costs for trade to and from the European Union have increased this quarter by 15% compared to the first quarter of 2021.
more difficult recruitment
But the first concern, without a doubt, for employers is the thorny issue of people’s mobility: “The big concern is that recruitment has become more difficult, more expensive and above all less clear. There has been a notable reduction in the hiring of European workers. » Youth mobility in particular has been hampered by Brexit. “Nearly 70% of companies have reduced or completely stopped hiring interns and VIEs from France”, explains Ms. Saghbini. Unsurprisingly, the sector most affected is the hotel industry. Many European employees of British hotels and restaurants were in fact arrested during the Covid-19 pandemic and returned to their home country. Today, they are locked down and cannot return without someone paying to sign them because of the new American-style sponsorship system imposed by Brexit. “What we are seeing is a reduction in the number of employees in the UK because we are getting fewer requests from European citizens, regrets Mrs Saghbini, and given the current policy between the UK and the EU, we don’t see how that could work. »
High requests for membership
The third and final point related to Brexit is, on the contrary, a reason for satisfaction: it is the pragmatism linked to the body of French companies in the United Kingdom. “Even with all the uncertainty related to Covid-19 and Brexit, political, legal and regulatory uncertainty, there is a lot of resilience, describes Mrs Saghbini, at almost 70% according to our survey, leaders don’t want to leave the UK and want to not only continue their operations here, but continue to grow. There is no doubt that companies freeze what we are doing in Britain. » Since September, the French Chamber of Commerce in London has also seen its applications for membership and commercial and establishment support increase in some units. “It is a very clear sign of good health in the minds of the French business community towards the UK. We have a normal rate of change on a home that stays pretty much the same, excites Mrs. Saghbini. Aside from maybe one or two anecdotal cases, we haven’t noticed any significant drop in interest, but on the contrary, new business leaders or big groups coming in, that’s the most important thing. » Between the glass half empty and the glass half full, Marilise Saghbini clearly opted for the second solution!