BCC Conference: informing the Brexit debate

Should we stay or leave?
Should we stay or leave?

2016 will see a whole host of decisions that will impact the success and future prosperity of businesses in the UK, according to BCC director general John Longworth.

There are many questions for this year: will the government live up to its pledge to make the UK the best place to grow a business? Will it transform infrastructure and the education system to fend of cutthroat competition for global trade? The decisions made by government and by business are invariably intertwined.

On the subject of one of the biggest upcoming decisions, the EU referendum, Longworth insisted that the BCC would not be campaigning for either side. Instead, it will survey its member companies and report their views and inform the debate, as the business community is undecided on Europe.

On Europe:

The people of the UK now face a choice, between staying in what is essentially an unreformed European Union, with the Eurozone moving off in another direction and with Britain sitting on the margins, or leaving the European Union, with all the near-term uncertainty and disruption that this will cause.

“Undoubtedly a tough choice. You might say, a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea.”

Business leaders are, of course, by and large driven by economically rational decision making, but decision making in business suffers from the pressures of the short term and is naturally focused on the interests of the particular business concerned.

Longworth ended his speech claiming that for him, the real question facing the British people is that the UK has the capacity to have a bright future without Europe but would businesses be prepared to weather the disruption to get there?

Nothing is certain…

Longworth also used some of his time on stage to discuss the issues of business taxation. He argued that businesses must realise it is in their own interest to prosper with the consent of the societies in which they operate.

“Let me be crystal clear: all multinational businesses with operations in Britain have an obligation to pay the full tax due on profits from their activities in this country.”

Large-scale tax avoidance by multinational businesses generates huge anger among other businesses, and is seen as unfair competition that undermines the implicit contract between business and society – and of Britain as an open, free market, he concluded.