UK businesses tell ministers to act now to stem the flow of business casualties and the litany of rising costs.

Commentary | 28/03/19

The great and the good of business and politics have congregated today at the British Chambers of Commerce annual conference.

Adam Marshall, director-general, gave a pointed and remarkable opening address as he accused politicians of “letting British business down.” He told the conference: “We are frustrated. We are angry. You have let British business down. You have focused on soundbites, not substance. Tactics, not strategy. Politics, not prosperity.”

I applaud Adam’s stance and his position on this subject as he told delegates that Westminster should spend more time helping existing businesses to win new customers. He also lamented the “Brexit black hole” that is contributing to a “growing list of business casualties” in the face of persisting uncertainty and accused politicians of “chasing rainbows” in the face of mounting economic damage.

As Calum Jones’ eloquently describes today in The Times, today would have been Britain’s last full day in the European Union had Theresa May and European leaders not agreed to an extension to allow her more time to push her Brexit deal through parliament.

As Whitehall officials prepare for negotiations with possible trading partners, including the United States and New Zealand, Mr Marshall urged them not to be distracted by the prospect of new trade agreements outside the EU. He called for an approach on trade “that fixates less on the political symbolism of trade agreements” and concentrates more “on helping businesses in the real world to win new customers and explore new global markets”.

During conference, Mr Marshall said that “businesses and communities in every part of the UK are still unsure about when the future starts, let alone what it holds. Three years going round in circles. Three years is long enough.”

While Mr Marshall accepted that some companies believed that leaving the EU without a deal would “draw a line in the sand” and provide “the certainty they so desperately crave.” He also identified that “this would have very real dangers,” and “would coincide with a looming slowdown in both global and UK economic growth.” An outcome that would be “unthinkable without clear leadership and a clear plan.”

During the conference, David Lidington, Theresa May’s de facto deputy insisted that “from the prime minister down” the government was doing “all it can” to reach a Brexit outcome which honoured the result of the referendum but protected the British economy.

I think what is very clear is that British businesses of all shapes and sizes and across all sectors are craving certainty and the support they need to help their businesses flourish and get on with the job of serving their consumers.

As the Brexit debacle continues unabated, it highlights ever more strongly the need to protect access to services, be that access to responsible credit, or otherwise, to minimise further shocks to our economic and social systems.

Greg Stevens
28th March 2019