What the business community most craves at the start of any year is a degree of certainty about how the economy is going to perform and what challenges they are likely to face in the forthcoming months.
The fact is that in 2019 we enter unchartered territory around a whole set of issues that means the ability to predict what the economic environment will look like going forward makes our lives ever more difficult.
The global picture offers little more comfort than the Brexit-ridden situation we are embroiled in here in the UK.
Donald Trump’s trade war with China is causing consternation from the tech sector and Apple through to car manufacturing and Jaguar Land Rover. If you think that the rate of export tariffs and not knowing your WTOs from your LBWs doesn’t much matter, tell that to the 5,000 employees of Jaguar who face redundancy this year.
The presidents’ game-playing with his Democrat opposition in the Senate has already led to the shut down of government in America and has impacted on Wall Street, stocks and currency valuations too.
Further, Trumps departure from what has been an aligned foreign policy approach with NATO allies has European Union member states questioning whether they need to adopt a more robust, isolationist approach to their own economic and security policies and has re-ignited talk of a European Army – more likely now given that the UK will not be able to veto such a proposition should Brexit happen.
At home, of course, the ‘B’ word continues to dominate every waking moment of our government’s time.
In a shambolic tale of misrepresentation, mismanagement and missed opportunity the latest Brexit nuggets include the awarding of £75m worth of contracts to some of the worlds biggest consultancy firms to supply the cabinet with advice on EU exit; a £15m contract to run ferries given to a company that doesn’t have any ships; and government defeats in the commons more regular than a Northern Rail train service.
What happens next in this Fred Carno’s circus abomination is anyone’s guess. Therein lies the problem. Business doesn’t know what is going to happen – and the uncertainty is killing confidence, investment and growth.
I said mid-way through 2018 that we were sleepwalking towards crashing out of the EU with no deal. Only now have some MPs woken from their slumber and have started guerilla warfare with ministers that may or may not avoid that awful outcome.
The only worse option I have seen to a no deal Brexit is the prime ministers’ proposal, which would leave us in a kind of no-mans-land purgatory for a significant amount of time with many of the challenges and uncertainties that have paralysed the government for the past three years remaining.
While all this is being played out in the corridors of power, businesses try to plan. It is tough, but those who are resilient, entrepreneurial and committed will continue to succeed whatever the shenanigans of our political masters.
There may be little we can do at this stage to influence what the eventual outcome of the Brexit debacle will be. However, we as businesses can and must start to flex our muscles more aggressively with decision-makers at all levels of government to ensure that however Brexit concludes we lobby hard for a much more supportive, sympathetic and focused agenda for business.
The lack of care for entrepreneurs, wealth and job creators in the UK has been nothing short of scandalous during the past year and more. A Tory government presides over the most bureaucratic business processes that we have experienced. Taxes and business costs have gone through the roof since 2010. Although it would be unrealistic for us all to expect sweetheart deals with HMRC over our tax contributions, the like of which Starbucks can allegedly negotiate, it would be nice not to be faced with draconian fees and an overly-abrupt approach from tax inspectors if you are a day late in meeting your VAT payment.
In our region’s, poor infrastructure and connectivity – both transport-wise and digitally- is killing our productivity. And, as another recession is assumed, Brexit or no Brexit, the banks have already started to demonstrate the same type of approach that led many good businesses to go pop unnecessarily during the last crash.
It is time for the business community and business organisations to start to demand more from our decision-makers – and focus on supporting those of us who will be left to deal with their deal!
You can bet your mortgage on the fact that Downtown in Business will be leading that charge this year. In 2019, strong, independent, robust representation is needed more than ever. Its what we do best.
Watch this space.