Dr Adam Marshall, Director General of British Chambers of Commerce addressed more than 60 people at a Hertfordshire business lunch on 30 March 2017 at Beales Hotel, Hatfield on Brexit opportunities.
Yolanda Rugg, CEO of Hertfordshire Chamber of Commerce, introduced the issue: “The British Chambers of Commerce and its Accredited Chambers take a neutral position on Brexit’s for-or-against arguments. However, now that Article 50 has been invoked, we activate our own campaign for global business opportunities for Hertfordshire businesses.”
Dr Adam Marshall presented the British Chamber’s perspective of Britain’s situation. “I’ll start with a SWOT analysis,” he said.
“Our strengths are strong market indicators and our resilient businesses; they’re pragmatic and adaptable and compared to our competition in the world, are doing well.
“Our weaknesses are principally the people problem, the talent pipeline. We can’t recruit enough locally; this is our biggest problem.
“Another issue, familiar also, is infrastructure. As a country we’ve under-invested in business for over 40 years where our world competitors have invested in necessary areas: broadband, transport.
On opportunity, Dr Marshall was more optimistic. “Brexit presents us with disruption, which brings change, a catalyst for new business thinking. Such disruption encourages us to find new niches, new opportunities.
“Two other very important opportunities are trade liberalisation and lower sterling giving us entry to new or different markets.
“Threats we need to be aware of is firstly, the gap between generation wealth; the XYZ and Millennial Generations are unable to accumulate wealth. This is a problem that needs confronting.
Another threat is fixation with relationships, he said: “I’ve read the Prime Minister’s letter to The European Council President, Mr Donald Trusk — we want to be best friends, but we don’t want to be part of the family!” Dr Marshall’s concern is the obsessing by politicians and media over Brexit.
“With so much noise, it’s more difficult at company and also government level to keep an eye on the ball — but we’ve got to.
“It’s on the British Chambers of Commerce’s domestic agenda to remind government about what really matters. On March 29the British pound held steady, but we do expect volatility – but when, we can’t say yet. Will it be at the time of negotiation, arising from emotions?”
We must also expect inflation as we consider the impact of rising costs. Some politicians are anticipating short-term chaos with mid-term steadiness but Dr Marshall takes the opposite view. He said also:
“There is a lot of noise about Trade Agreements, but businesses up and down the country want to know the fundamentals — who we can hire, how do we get our products across borders, what are the terms of trade, what about tax, how will regulation affect my business?
“We need maximum clarity — that’s how we’ll continue to do business,” he said.
At a recent meeting with the Secretary of State: Business, Innovation, Energy, Dr Marshall raised British businesses’ competitiveness in a country obsessing about housing shortages when there is also a critical shortage of business premises.
In addition, 40 per cent of businesses, countrywide, are highly concerned about business rates increase and business insurance premiums.
“Government is taxing business before companies begin making money,” he said.
He appealed to businesses considering exporting their products and services in a post-Brexit world to contact their local Chamber, part of an international network of business contacts that opens doors.
The British Chambers of Commerce with its Accredited Chamber (Hertfordshire Chamber of Commerce), he said, provides businesses with four opportunities — Voice: the means to create change, Trade: the springboard for local and international business growth, Membership: business within a civic community and finally Place: where business is done.