Stability must now be top priority, say region’s business leaders after Brexit vote

John Dugmore

John Dugmore - Credit: Lucy Taylor

Campaigners from the business community on both sides of the EU membership debate were agreed yesterday on the need for the Government to make stability its top priority in the wake of the vote for Brexit.

But there were also calls for Ministers to “get back to business” and focus on other key issues which firms believe have been neglected during the referendum campaign, and to avoid the distraction of a “political inquest”.

Pro-Remain campaigner Matt Moss, finance director at Poundfield Products, based at Creeting St Peter, near Stowmarket, said: “We never thought it would happen so the first reaction when the announcement was made at 6.10am was a state of shock, like most we have spoken to, but however shocking or unexpected this may have been to some the reality is we now have to focus and get back to business.

“As a business we are now uncertain as to the real impact of the Brexit on our growth and future plans. We are not a company that trades direct with the EU but have benefited indirectly.

“We have already seen an immediate reaction within the construction industry of panic, which may or may not lead to anything tangible, but where there is uncertainty there will be a lack of confidence and this could be detrimental to the industry and the economy as a whole.”

He added: “Government need to focus on acting quickly, get back to business and work collaboratively for the greater good of Britain and prevent an era of uncertainty.”

Stephen Britt, managing director of Anchor Storage, based at Kenton, near Debenham, who was a prominent campaigner for the pro-Brexit Business for Britain group during the campaign, said his reaction was a mix of “surprise and pleasure”.

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“I am surprised because we have been told by the polls for the last four months, apart from a blip last week, that it was going to be a ‘Remain’ result.

“So my feeling is one of surprise, and a bit of shock, but it is basically what I have been pushing for. I want the UK to got out into the world and stand on its own two feet.”

From the perspective of his own business, Mr Britt said he hoped the result in the medium term would be the negotiation of free trade deals with more nations.

In the short term, however, the Government’s priority should be to address issues which had been cast aside during the referendum campaign, such as investment in infrastructure, notably airport runway capacity, rail and broadband.

“Basically, they have to get back to work and start doing what they said they were going to at the General Election last year,” he added.

John Dugmore, chief executive of Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, which, like the rest of the chamber movement, remained neutral during the campaign in recognition of the differing views held by members, said: “In the wake of the electorate’s historic decision to leave the EU, the immediate priorities for UK business are market stability and political clarity.

“Suffolk’s businesses expect the country’s political leadership to show calmness and responsibility and not to be dragged into a prolonged political inquest.”

Denise Rossiter, chief executive of Essex Chambers of Commerce, said: “Some businesspeople will be pleased with the result, and others resigned to it. Yet all companies will expect swift, decisive, and co-ordinated action from the Government and the Bank of England to stabilise markets if trading conditions or the availability of capital change dramatically.”

She added: “Businesses need action to maintain economic stability, a timeline for exit, and answers to their many practical, real-world questions about doing business during and after this historic transition.”

Graham Kill, chairman of the Institute of Directors’ Suffolk branch, said: “The majority of IoD members in our last member survey said they wanted us to all vote Remain, albeit with progressive changes sought as a continued member of the union.

“The electorate, and in particular Suffolk with all seven districts voting to Leave, means we all – but our businesses in particular – need our political leaders manage the transition as smoothly as possible.

“The weeks and months ahead are going to be a nervy time for business leaders, so they need to know that the Government is focussed on maintaining stability while a new relationship with the EU is established.”

Salena Dawson, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) in East Anglia, said there was a need for clarity in the wake of the Leave vote.

“We want positive action from the people in power,” she said. “One quarter of our members export and the sooner we know what is going to happen, the better.”

The FSB did not take a position on the EU membership issue, but Ms Dawson said Leave sentiment had been stronger among small businesses than big business.

She added: “Our members have on average five to 10 employees, and they were making their decision on a personal basis rather than as business owners.”