Business Monthly: Examining the ins and outs of EU membership

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A referendum on whether Britain should remain in the European Union will be held in June – and the subject is rarely out of the headlines.

But how will city region firms vote and what is the likely impact on the business community?

The region’s Chambers of Commerce are remaining neutral but are organising events to open up information on the economic argument and relate them to the local economy.

The participants:

Will Straw, executive director of Britain Stronger in Europe Campaign

Oliver Coppard, Yorkshire and Humber field director for Britain Stronger in Europe

Richard Wright, executive director, Sheffield Chamber

Nick Patrick, head of international trade, South Yorkshire International Trade Centre

Kiley Tan, founder, Mosaic International

Ian Brown, managing partner, Wosskow Brown

Jon Stewart, business director, Primetals Technologies

Peter Newsam, partner, UHY Hacker Young

Chris Muscroft, commercial director, Highlander IT Business Solutions

Alan Easter, founder, Arkom Ltd

Will Straw: “From a business perspective, we believe we are stronger, safer and better off as part of the EU, based on the strength of our economy, the benefits that we get from being in the EU and the potential benefits in future from remaining.

“The South Yorkshire region in particular has benefited from EU funding with Objective One because the funding was set up to go to the areas of the country that need it most.

“There are the export opportunities we get as part of the free trade single market and studies show 3 to 4 million jobs in the UK are linked to our trade with the EU.

“The total benefits are worth about 45 per cent of GDP and that outweighs the costs by nearly 10 to one.”

Richard Wright: “We recognise free trade as a massive advantage. But if we stay in what is the likely effect on GDP? And if we come out are we likely to make better trade deals with other areas instead?

“We are business people – we want the nuts and bolts, the facts and figures.”

Will Straw: “There are the 3 to 4 million jobs linked to EU trade and 250,000 of those are in Yorkshire and the Humber.

“But we also need to recognise the future jobs – our economy is 80 per cent services and a lot of development is taking place particularly in the creative and digital sectors in the UK. It’s an area where the EU isn’t as advanced and so there are opportunities for us to translate EU goods into our service sector and that’s really profound – it gives us a competitive advantage.”

Chris Muscroft: “Where your campaign is fairly strong is around the risk and uncertainty of leaving – there are no viable alternatives, no facts and figures from the other side yet but they will come.

“I haven’t made my mind up yet, but in terms of the business world manufacturers may take a different view to digital businesses.

“I’ve read a lot about EU membership protecting financial interests in London which is great from a business perspective but the public will just see that as protecting jobs for the boys.”

Jon Stewart: “Messaging and influence is critical here. I’m not sure people feel we have a strong voice in the EU. I feel our membership is slightly tenuous.

“What we’ve actually achieved needs to be a lot more public and high profile.”

Nick Patrick: “The danger at the moment is the message is political and social. For us it needs to be a commercial and business message.”

Peter Newsam: “A lot of imports are by SMEs and a lot of time is spent on red tape requirements in the UK, some good, some bad, but the public are looking at issues like immigration and sovereignty and unelected EU civil servants making decisions.”

Ian Brown: “Red tape means there are real barriers to trading in Europe. But the public are voting so how are you going to tick their boxes so they understand what’s going to affect them?”

Will Straw: “It is about making it real at a local level. They want to know about jobs, future jobs and also security. Thanks to EU warrants, for example, 459 people have been deported from Yorkshire and the Humber and 61 brought to the UK to face justice here.”

Nick Patrick: “If we leave there’s this two-year strategy to exit. How long will it take for us to renegotiate trade agreements? And what happens with red tape then?”

Richard Wright: “I try and ignore the fear around the two years. We’re not making a decision based on two years but 10 years from now – are we going to be better as an economy in or out? We’re talking about a strategic decision not an operational one.”

Oliver Coppard: “This has to be about South Yorkshire, led by South Yorkshire.”