When Bart Kowalczyk was commissioned by the British foreign office to find out how many Polish business owners in Britain were considering leaving the UK because of Brexit he found out that 46 percent of those he surveyed were.
A high figure and one that he describes, as “surprising”, partly because he has no plans to head home himself.
The 36-year-old Edinburgh-based businessman has been in the UK since 2006, leaving Poland, like so many others of his generation, to escape high unemployment and little in the way of financial enticements to encourage a university graduate to stay.
Fast forward on 12 years, he has a wife, two children and runs Polish Business Link, a business platform facilitating and building links between mainly Polish firms and potential British clients.
It is a business that has flourished as trade links between Poland and the UK have blossomed and bloomed. But it also a business that provides Kowalczyk with a rather unique perspective on how Brexit will affect Polish-British business links, and the prospects of Polish companies already established in the UK.
On a personal note Kowalczyk says that the looming nature of Brexit could make it harder to employ Poles with good English because of a GBP 30,000 a year salary threshold on skilled immigrants that has been proposed by the UK government as part of a possible post-Brexit immigration policy.
Kowalczyk says that the looming nature of Brexit could make it harder to employ Poles with good English because of a GBP 30,000 a year salary threshold on skilled immigrants that has been proposed by the UK government as part of a possible post-Brexit immigration policy.Bart Kowalczyk
“It will be challenging to employ someone owing to the new immigration policy,” he told TFN. “I need to get someone who can speak both Polish and English and then there will be a GBP 30,000 threshold. I can’t employ people. That will affect myself.”
His concerns are also reflected in the Polish Business Link survey for the Foreign Office. It found that out of the 550 mostly UK-based Polish firms 48 percent reported Brexit was having a bad effect on their ability to recruit staff.
Kowalczyk also adds that rising costs owing to a weak pound and uncertainty over the future of Brexit could also affect not only his business but others tied to into UK-Polish trade. But aside from this he says Polish firms remain bullish about doing business in, or with, Britain.
“On the positive side I’m really busy,” he says. “When it comes to Polish exporters they are saying, ‘OK Bart, we are selling to Russia, we are selling to the US, and if the UK puts up some kind of restrictions we just need to play with them.’ There are some kinds of doubts but once things have settled down then it should be business as usual.”
The probability that Polish businesses will find a way to re-adjust to the post-Brexit reality one way or another gives Kowalczyk hope for the future. Adding to the positive, he explains, is that whatever happens with Brexit the UK should remain an easier country to do business in than Poland, and that will act as a lure to Polish companies.
Kowalczyk says that rising costs owing to a weak pound and uncertainty over the future of Brexit could affect businesses tied into UK-Polish trade. But aside from this he says Polish firms remain bullish about doing business in, or with, Britain.Bart Kowalczyk
“It is much harder to run a business in Poland than it is in the UK,” he says. “The admin costs are higher and then you have ZUS [social insurance]. It’s easier and much less expensive in Britain. There you pay less tax and you have more customers.”
On top of that, he continues, Polish firms can use the UK as a “trampoline” to bounce into other English-speaking markets. So an IT service provider with an office in London will find it easier to crack a market like Singapore than a firm with just an office in Warsaw.
Kowalczyk strikes a positive note about how Brexit will affect Polish firms, but the clouds of uncertainty swirling around have prompted him to take steps to protect his own future.
“I’ve become British to secure my status and my kids’, because who knows what will happen in 20 years,” he says.