East Anglia small businesses still reeling from Brexit one year on as red tape and import costs soar

  • Watch a report by ITV News Anglia's Hannah Pettifer

A restaurant owner has warned businesses are still feeling the impact of higher import costs after Brexit - and says it could force him to the wall.

Over the past year, the costs of running the Taste Of Italy restaurant in Chelmsford have risen exponentially. Owner Sergio Teacu is now paying up to 30% more for the food he imports from Italy - and that, he says, is due to Brexit.

ITV News Anglia has been catching up with small businesses across the region to find out more about what the end of the UK's membership of the European Union has meant for their fortunes.

Mr Teacu takes pride in his restaurant's authenticity but it has come at a cost, which the business is now struggling to withstand.

"Just this bag of flour last year was £19.89 - now it's £28 per bag," he told ITV News Anglia.

"On the parma ham, prosciutto crudo, the price went from £16 to £19 per kilo. All the prices on all the salamis, cheeses, olives went up between 10% and 30% on average."

Almost all of the food used in the restaurant is imported from Italy Credit: ITV News Anglia

Mr Teacu said the situation further worsened when, at the start of this year, import controls and checks were fully introduced on goods coming into the UK from the EU.

For his business it has meant increased paperwork, delays at the border, additional costs and wasted food.

He has tried to substitute some of the ingredients with British equivalents but said he could not create the same quality of food.

Restaurant owner Sergio Teacu talks to ITV News Anglia's Hannah Pettifer Credit: ITV News Anglia

"If you change the products, if you try to take different products that are cheaper, suddenly the quality goes down," he said.

"If you want to do something properly and you want to do a quality pizza you need those ingredients. With the prices increasing it will be much harder to sustain a good quality product and still go forward with the pizzeria."

According to the Federation of Small Businesses half of all small businesses are still experiencing significant negative impacts following Brexit. Unlike larger businesses who may have the financial reserves and manpower to cover the increase in bureaucracy and logistical issues post-Brexit, smaller businesses seem to be suffering disproportionately.

It is not just the import and export of goods affecting them, but also access to the European workforce.

Colin Stracey runs the sailing school Premier Sailing in Maldon in Essex. His business relies on sailing instructors who, up until a year ago, came over from the Netherlands to work for him.

Premier Sailing in Maldon is struggling to recruit sailing instructors Credit: ITV News Anglia

But now, he said, they have to pay £1,200 to get a visa to work in the UK. He is finding the instructors are now choosing to work for larger operations who can afford to pay for their visas, or they are just staying in the EU to work.

"We've looked at getting work permits but I'm a sailing instructor," says Mr Stracey.

"I'm not necessarily good at the paperwork side of things, it's very confusing and appears expensive. It is a serious problem because we have very small margins and without multiple boats going out we just won't survive."

Mr Stracey has advertised for British instructors and even started a training scheme but has not had enough interest. He is now having to turn business away.

The Federation of Small Businesses is calling for more support from the government.

"We're seeing the negative impact of the pandemic, inflation rises, a huge surge in energy costs and for these international businesses Brexit really does play its part," said Lauren Dovey, the FSB's development manager.

"And that's why we need to see that extra support for them now. We've already seen one in five cease trading temporarily. If government don't do something now then a lot of those will stop trading permanently."

But the government said it had worked closely with businesses in providing support throughout the transition and that it had always been clear that being outside the single market and the customs union would mean changes and businesses needing to adapt to new processes.

A UK government spokesperson said: "Traders have adapted well to the introduction of import controls at the start of the year, with minimal disruption at the border and inbound freight flowing effectively through ports."

Rising costs are making it harder for the Taste of Italy restaurant in Chelmsford to stay in business Credit: ITV News Anglia

But that is far from the reality experienced by Sergio Teacu.

In his work to create a little slice of Italy in Chelmsford, Brexit has now become an extra cost his already small margins are struggling to withstand.