Countdown to Brexit: Richard Blackmore, CBI Regional Director, East Midlands

Richard Blackmore

With the countdown to Brexit quickly ticking away, Business Link Magazine invites a select number of the region’s business leaders to offer their thoughts.

Here we talk with Richard Blackmore, CBI Regional Director, East Midlands.

“It’s been another extraordinary week in British politics. Following the second defeat of the PM’s Withdrawal Agreement on Tuesday, Parliament voted for an Article 50 extension, proving there is still some common sense remaining in Westminster.

“Yet danger still looms. The only way to truly avoid a damaging no deal scenario – at a later date – is to agree on something.

“Both main parties must make meaningful moves to find consensus, not simply double-down on their red lines or put hopes of power ahead of the national interest.

“Let’s not forget the importance of these turbulent times. Decisions made in the weeks and months ahead will shape people’s livelihoods and living standards for years to come. That’s why it’s so important to get them right.

“This applies to domestic policy as well as Brexit. While the Chancellor rightly signalled this year’s Spring Statement would be limited in scope ahead of the Spending Review later this year, it was still significant. Against an increasingly uncertain backdrop, Philip Hammond made an admirable attempt to set out a long-term vision for the UK economy, yet he remained shackled by Brexit. Indeed, this year’s forecast downgrade – from 1.6-1.2% – brought the danger of a no deal scenario for the UK economy sharply into view. It must be avoided.

“The Chancellor rightly identified the need to go further and faster in combating climate change. Future proofing all new-build homes with low carbon heating by 2025 will be welcomed by businesses, although it fails to tackle the broader challenge of existing homes. And any assistance for small businesses to reduce their energy bills and carbon emissions is welcome.

“Elsewhere, prompt payment practices are good for businesses throughout the supply chain, and if reporting encourages better behaviour from firms that’s a good result. The CBI has been working closely with the Federation of Small Businesses to create healthier supply chains.

“On tech there were two notable developments. Going it alone on a digital services tax seems risky, especially at a time when the UK already looks increasingly isolated. The government needs to be doing all it can to encourage investment in the UK and adoption of new technologies, not putting up barriers. Similarly, the Government’s response to the Furman review on digital competition should acknowledge that any new rules or regulation must keep pace with this fast-moving industry. Putting consumers in control of their data and increasing regulatory expertise are sensible steps. Yet any interventions into the technology market mustn’t dent the UK’s reputation as a world leader in tech.

“Meanwhile, making real inroads with the industrial strategy still remains urgent as a means of protecting and enhancing the UK’s long-term competitiveness. Businesses need to know what it means for them. And there’s so much more to do on innovation, R&D spending as well as ensuring our education and skills sector is fit for the future.

“So at the start of yet another tumultuous week for Brexit, let’s hope our politicians put what’s best the people’s jobs and the UK economy first, and country before party. Fixing the foundations of our economy at home is too important to be left as an afterthought.”