Leaving EU with no deal would harm region, Business West warns in its General Election manifesto

June 1, 2017

Business West, the region’s largest business group, has warned that leaving the EU without a deal would cause “considerable damage” to many businesses.

The organisation behind the Swindon and Wiltshire Initiative said avoiding this outcome “must be a priority” for all General Election candidates standing in constituencies across the West of England.

In its manifesto for the region’s 100-plus would-be MPs, launched today, it says failing to secure a deal would hit the key sectors from automotive and aerospace to agriculture.

The option of walking away from Brexit negotiations without a formal agreement has been suggested by the Conservative Party during its campaign.

Prime Minister Theresa May has repeatedly said that no deal would be better than a bad deal – a phrase she used several times in her TV interview with Jeremy Paxman earlier this week.

Brexit Secretary David Davis and other senior Tory figures have also made this claim as the party looks to place the issue at the centre of the final week’s campaigning.

Brexit – and the need for a tariff-free deal with the EU – is one of eight points put forward by Business West in its manifesto, which also addresses key regional issues ranging from transport to skills.

With the possibility that Brexit will dominate the final week of the election campaign – important as that is – Business West believes these other factors also need to be addressed.

It is urging all candidates to read its eight key issues and address the concerns of West businesses.

Business West managing director Phil Smith said: “The next government will be responsible for negotiating the terms of the UK’s departure from the European Union – the outcome of which will influence the UK’s economic and trading prospects for years to come.

“Beyond Brexit, however, this election must also be about the wider fundamentals and ensuring that our businesses and economy are on the strongest possible footing to make global Britain a success.

“Tackling longstanding infrastructure challenges, skills productivity and gaps and the housing crisis are just some of the measures required to drive growth across the region. With this in mind, I urge candidates to think beyond Brexit negotiations and the media spotlight, and become true champions of local business.”

Business West represents more than 16,000 businesses across the South West through its network of chambers of commerce and initiatives.

Its eight key asks of candidates – and the incoming government – are:

  • Brexit. Firms across the region need tariff-free trade with continental Europe and minimal friction at the border, along with a stable regulatory framework and equivalence of standards with the EU. The government must ensure businesses have continued access to the talent they need without undue cost or bureaucracy, creating a pragmatic immigration regime that is responsive to economic needs and skills shortages at all levels. Falling out of the EU without an agreement in place (the ‘no deal’ option) would cause considerable damage to many businesses and sectors across the region, from aviation to automotive, aerospace to agriculture. Avoiding this outcome must be a priority.
  • International trade. As well as securing an EU trade deal on the best possible terms, the government should seek to ensure that businesses continue to benefit from existing EU Free Trade Agreements and target trade deals with new global partners. The UK continues to export less as a percentage of GDP than many other advanced economies and the next government needs to place exporting at the centre of its economic strategy. This must include providing long-term support for firms of all sizes to develop a world-class business-to-business network linking British companies with opportunities in markets around the world.
  • Devolution. The West of England has agreed a £900m devolution deal and installed its first Metro Mayor. It is now up to leaders both locally and nationally to ensure that we make a success of devolution, working closely together to deliver on an ambitious vision for sustainable growth. There also needs to be an ongoing dialogue with national government to allow the benefits of devolution to reach more parts of the region and in planning ambitiously for additional powers and responsibilities to be devolved to the West in ‘Devo 2’ and beyond.
  • Transport. Despite recently announced major schemes, the current state of our transport network remains poor, with a legacy of underinvestment and inadequate public transport provision resulting in increased journey times for residents, commuters and visitors alike. The government needs to fast track new long-term, integrated transport strategies for our region’s travel-to-work areas, seeking to maximise the use of public transport. Crucially, it must deliver the planned electrification of the line into Bristol at the earliest possible opportunity, and commit to the extension of the electrification programme to other parts of the regional rail network.
  • Housing. Housing pressures are rising steeply across our region and there is a growing affordability gap, with the cost of housing increasing at a faster rate than local wages. We need to see concerted action from both central and local government to boost planned levels of housing such that it has a meaningful impact on affordability. We need to see ambitious local housing plans that deliver enough homes to meet our region’s future growth in jobs and households, and action from central government to speed up the planning process. At the same time, leaders must ensure that new housing does not come at the expense of employment land, leaving enough room for the offices, factories and depots required by business.
  • Digital connectivity. Digital connectivity has never been more important for business, with increasing demand for web-based services and access to information. In the South West, broadband connectivity is especially vital given the rural context, yet problems remain within the marketplace. The next government must ensure all businesses have access to world-class digital infrastructure by introducing a new national target that matches the most ambitious targets in other EU countries, and not just countries of a comparable size.
  • Skills and employment. Firms can only perform as well as the people that start, run and work in them, and to thrive we must see work-ready talent coming out of our schools, colleges and universities. We need an education system that adequately prepares young people with the attitude, knowledge and basic industry experience to successfully make the transition to work. The new government must ensure secondary schools and Further Education colleges are assessed on employment outcomes and pledge universal ‘experience of work’ in all schools. More must also be done to reform apprenticeships, focusing on quality not just quantity and achieving greater engagement with business as part of a revolution in technical skills.
  • Industrial strategy. The new government must commit to a long-term industrial strategy which puts an emphasis on ‘place’ and builds on our region’s existing competitive advantages. As well as prioritising skills gaps and investing in infrastructure, the government should pledge support to building on our key regional strengths, particularly in science, research and innovation. The Industrial Strategy must have cross government buy-in, the resources required to unlock the growth potential of our business communities, and it must be delivered through institutions that put businesses, investors and innovators in the driving seat.

To view the manifesto online click here


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