Now I stand here waiting

by Scribble Monboddo

Earlier this week was supposedly the day the media love to describe as Blue Monday, apparently the most depressing day of the year. Naturally, I prefer to think of it as a day to celebrate the top-selling 12" single of all time, a quote from which forms the title of today's blog - but you recognised that immediately,  right? But with times as choppy as they are right now, another New Order single of similar vintage is perhaps more appropriate...

Confusion? We have it in ample supply, it's fair to say. The world of top-flight stationery is certainly not immune, either, as both buyers and sellers are discovering right now. Anyone trying to wholesale from the UK, or procure individual purchases from abroad, is having a decidedly unpredictable, and often surprisingly expensive, time of it right now. Status report, Number One!

Let me explain; I'm a scientist. Well, a social scientist at least. Or better yet, an escaped civil servant. Would you like an insight into how these things work in practice? Take a seat and prepare for a tale of buccaneering bureaucracy on the mean streets of Whitehall.

You see, the big secret - which isn't that much of a secret in truth - is that the policy-making (and policy implementation) system moves slowly. Really, really slowly. Think of your favourite glacier then, c'mon, tone it down a bit, seriously.

To bring in a change to VAT rates, import/export rules or trading conditions involves internal negotiations between ministerial advisors and permanent policy teams to arrive at a more-or-less workable position, prolonged turf disputes between competing government departments to ascertain who gets the glory of announcing the change and who has to do the digging in the trenches to make it work, endless tennis between owners of communications grids to work out who actually gets to tell parliament and public what's happening (and how much of the detail to include or omit), and significant calendar wiggle room for parliamentary debate and judicial challenge. That usually takes several years, even for a modest change. For a very substantial change to very many overlapping systems, the fraction of a window between Christmas Eve 2020 and New Year's Day 2021 offered not even the slightest chance of finality; 400 days of work simply cannot be done in fifteen hours, however large the workforce notionally available to assist.

So we are where we are, which to take the most charitable position possible is with a big old heap of unfinished business. Educated guesses can be made about how some of the complexity may eventually settle out, but literally no-one can know for certain. For consumers, the only watertight advice for now is probably to wait and see. There are plenty of UK-based retailers, including Nero's Notes, who would still appreciate your custom, so the safe bet may be to just buy local for a while. For those of a more adventurous inclination, it is still possible to try buying exotica from overseas, and of course it's good to share the news of how that goes if you do. It might be wise to avoid drawing too firm a conclusion from individual experiences, however; until there is a coherent system the risk of getting one of those infamous 'ransom notes' is essentially a lottery. You might get lucky, but then again you might not.
For makers and sellers, many of whom are amongst Nero's closest friends, unfortunately there is no detailed guidance which can be fully relied upon at present. There will doubtless be a growth in digests and summaries of how the rules should operate, but these are something of a legal fiction until high-level decisions are made one way or the other. A wait-and-see approach is understandably less attractive when you need to export, so here the best advice may be to experiment with lower-risk consignments where possible and, again, compare notes. If shared effectively that street knowledge may even serve in place of the 'missing manual', at least temporarily.
In the medium term, six months to a year, it is likely that further cross-Channel negotiations will have to be entered into so as to arrive at a more tolerable situation for both trading entities - but inevitably there are quite a few distractions for all sides concerned at present. Don't hold your breath, in short. But don't despair. The long-term picture is anyone's guess at the moment, so in the meantime let's just say that where there's a will, there's a way. You won't have to miss out on having something groovy on your desk - wherever it is.