Whitby’s Last Yard
Many businesses across the UK have suffered as a result of the paralysis resulting from almost three years of failed Brexit negotiations since the EU referendum in 2016. Whitby’s Last Yard explores the possible impact of Brexit upon a medium-sized boatbuilding business, located in the harbour of Whitby – a North Yorkshire seaside town with a long and proud history of fishing and boatbuilding. Many of the materials and components used in the construction of the vessels now built in Whitby are imported from suppliers and manufacturers in the EU. The impact of the referendum result and the ongoing Brexit uncertainty on the currency exchange rate has already increased the costs of these items.
These financial burdens may become even worse after Brexit itself, increasing the overall production cost of boatbuilding even further, resulting in the yard becoming significantly less competitive against its EU rivals.
As part of a longer-term business model to create a sustainable, dynamic workforce, the yard employs many workers from the EU, some of whom may no longer be able to work in the UK after Brexit. The current EU contingent working at the yard consists of highly skilled and experienced boat builders, who cannot readily be replaced by domestic workers who – as a result of sustained underinvestment in the industry including a lack of apprenticeships and training schemes – don’t possess the same skill-sets.
In ‘taking back control’ through Brexit, these factors may result in the inability of the yard to fulfil its current order book and contribute to a subsequent loss of future orders. In the worst-case scenario, the yard would be forced to close, consigning over 22 years of this business’s boatbuilding in Whitby to history alongside all the other ship yards in the town which have disappeared since the heydays of building sailing ships during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.