As business owners, we understand the importance of planning, and in doing so, we are always looking ahead to the future, scanning the political, economic and social environments in which we operate, so that we might try to best position our businesses to take advantage of the opportunities and meet the threats and challenges presented. This planning process is not easy and the greater the uncertainty, the harder it becomes.
Brexit, whether hard or soft, is of course the key unknown that presently confronts us. Whatever one’s initial pre-referendum view, it is now widely accepted that Brexit will and indeed must happen; but what that means in practical terms for our country is clouded in uncertainty.
I can’t help but think that whilst the surprise expressed in the general media about this was predictable, the stance taken by business representative bodies such as the CBI is somewhat naive. How many of us would publish our bottom line position before entering into a commercial negotiation and expect to achieve a better outcome? Indeed, how many of us would enter into a negotiation that is subject to a deadline for agreement and expect that agreement to be reached before the final hours? Why then should we expect our negotiators to reveal their hand so early or expect agreements to be reached well ahead of the April 2019 deadline for our exit from the European Union?
Whatever Brexit ultimately looks like it is often, and to my mind rightly said, that we are leaving the European Union and not Europe itself. The UK will remain a strong trading partner with Europe, tariffs or no tariffs, and as such we in Sussex and the wider south east will remain the gateway to one of the UK’s most important markets as well as having the potential to benefit from the opening up of new global markets. It is therefore imperative that investment continues to be made in our transport infrastructure.
Even before the Brexit referendum, the need for additional runway capacity to support trade with emerging markets had been identified. Whilst Heathrow has seemed for a long time to be the front runner to secure this additional capacity, I was interested to see that recent reports on the comparative economic benefits of the competing locations now identifies the proposals at Gatwick as giving a greater return. If a new runway were to be provided at Gatwick, a significant part of that economic benefit would be delivered in Sussex and the south east.
Getting goods and people to and from the country, whether through our airports or the region’s ports, is only part of the transport challenge that faces us. Continued improvement and development of the road and rail infrastructure to support the additional movements is also vital.
Alongside traditional infrastructure, it is now a given that electronic and digital communication is a vital component in a healthy economy, presenting as it does the opportunity for new markets to be accessed without the need for a geographical presence in those markets. It is therefore vital to our local economy that investment continues to be made in our digital infrastructure in order to support business generally, and specifically the growing centres for tech and digital business within our region.
When it comes to employment and education, there are always going to be challenges. No business can survive without its people and increasingly business need is for highly educated and trained people. How to develop younger generations, educating and training them in skills that will equip them for jobs that do not yet exist is one of the greatest challenges facing all developed and developing countries in the world.
Having educated our young people, the challenge for us in business continues as we need to keep that talent in our region; that has always been difficult due to the draw of London. With electronic communication reducing the need for many businesses to have a physical presence in the capital, if we have a transport and digital infrastructure that allows them to locate in and relocate to our region, we will also be able to deliver the opportunity for a meaningful and challenging career locally. If our young people are to stay in our region they will also need housing, and the provision of an adequate housing supply presents a challenge for both national and local government, which must be met. If you’d like to share any comment on this feature you can email Richard at firstname.lastname@example.org