Sheffield Chamber has today released a list of the top eight business priorities for Government after consulting with members post Brexit vote including political stability, remaining attractive to inward investors and developing a ‘proper plan’ to reverse the trade deficit.
It also wants Theresa May’s new government to clarify immigration issues, especially the free movement of labour, which it describes as ‘critical to growing our economy’, and foreign students, which should not be included in immigration numbers because ‘we want to welcome as many as possible’.
And it calls for more devolution, while cutting ‘top heavy’ staffing costs, as well as sorting national pension issues, many of which are ‘seriously underfunded’.
Sheffield Chamber is the largest business representative organisation in South Yorkshire with about 1,200 members who employ nearly 100,000 people.
It produced the manifesto to help speed the transition to a new administration following the EU Referendum.
Jill Thomas, president and owner of Future Life Wealth Management, said: “Sheffield Chamber’s position is very much that the vote is over, we need to get on with it and focus on the opportunities, so what are the things we need to sort out?”
Richard Wright, executive director added: “We have already seen an upturn in our export documentation reflecting the competitiveness of the pound. The recent announcements around the Chinese investments in Sheffield, the city centre development, the West Bar investments, HS2, Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District and the Olympic Legacy Park show that the world has not stopped and Sheffield remains a city on the up.
“European membership is clearly not the answer to everything as our long term unsustainable trade deficit shows so maybe we need to focus harder on the other opportunities in the world.”
Now is not the time to go for another election or even another referendum. At some stage (and we agree it does not need to be immediately) we will need to Trigger Article 50 and there must be stability through that period. Neither is it desirable that we live with the threat of yet another Scottish independence vote because that raises uncertainty for businesses deciding whether to invest there. The eventual agreement with Europe does need to include access to the free trade area but not at any cost. We must have the ability to develop new trading relationships with other areas of the world albeit the financial passport within Europe is important for ‘The City’
Maintain a favourable environment for inward investment and research and development. The GKN announcement in July to invest £275m in the UK was justified on favourable tax conditions, good R&D incentives and a decent supply of skilled people. These are critical if we are going to keep up our momentum. Current corporation tax commitments and R&D tax credits need to be maintained.
Clarify immigration issues. In our opinion there is a big difference between free movement of people and free movement of labour.
Free movement of people can only be allowed if the resources are made available in areas like health and education and housing to deal with the volume.
Free movement of labour is critical to growing our economy and covering big gaps of skilled people in many areas. It is totally illogical to include foreign students in our immigration numbers and they should be removed at once. We want to welcome as many of those as we possibly can.
Develop a proper plan to reverse our trade deficit, which is currently unsustainable. We must export more value or import less and preferably both. The way that government has tried to support export growth has clearly not worked and needs a radical re-think.
Continue to invest heavily in infrastructure. There is much talk around a welcome increase in plans to invest in transport, energy, housing and broadband but it must be delivered. We remain concerned at the implications of building Hinckley Point with the agreed strike price which is likely to drive up energy costs but we absolutely agree that the stability of future energy supplies is critical.
We believe a combination of modular nuclear reactors and renewables, including wind, solar and tidal, would be a far better option and the nuclear reactors can be completely made in the UK and with much better cash flow than the alternatives.
Continue the investments in skills. We applaud the recent moves towards properly defined vocational and academic pathways and the colleges and universities are ready to implement that direction.
Colleges need to be able to invest in the right equipment and teaching to deliver high quality vocational education which should not preclude the student going to university to study for a degree. Too many of our children leaving education however are not properly prepared to start down either of those routes and that remains a critical issue.
Colleges often see the consequences of that and have to divert valuable resources trying to ‘catch students up’ and, under the current inspection regime, can be penalised as well. Ofsted is a valuable audit of the education system but it needs to take more cognizance of the needs of employers because there are often conflicts. Independent careers advice must be made available in schools from the age of 11. The funding of the education system needs changing so that students are encouraged to take the best route for them which does not penalise the school.
Continue with the devolution program and the Northern Powerhouse but not at the expense of adding yet more layers of bureaucracy.
Much of our funding comes through multiple layers of government including European government, national government, regional government (combined authority), local government, and the Local Enterprise Partnerships (who seem to becoming increasingly top heavy in staffing costs, yet still commission projects through external contractors).
So much of the taxes collected from business and private individuals ‘disappears’ in all these layers so that the proportion that gets to delivery is far too small. Business has had to become competitive by reducing overhead costs. Government must do the same.
Sort out the national pension issues. One of the consequences of the referendum is that gilt yields have dropped leaving many pension schemes, particularly final salary schemes, seriously underfunded. Many businesses that appear to be performing well have a hidden Achilles heel in their pension schemes and trustees need to properly understand their legal responsibilities.
It would be helpful if the initial National Insurance threshold was linked to the Living Wage, and for the National Insurance and Income Tax payments to be combined into a simple and understandable single tax system.
Multiple systems and red tape do require employers to maintain excessive levels of overhead which does not help as we try to drive up competitiveness.