John Kavanagh, UK Public Affairs Manager
As the 2017 Conservative Party Conference in Manchester drew to a close, ACCA members, senior stakeholders and leading political commentators huddled together at the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce to display a unity of purpose notably absent from the Cabinet front bench.
On Tuesday 3 October ACCA hosted a panel discussion looking at the role of the devolution agenda in helping to support businesses to export and grow as the UK departs the European Union in the years ahead.
Attendees heard from Baroness Lucy Neville-Rolfe, Conservative Peer and former Minister at the Department for Business; Andrew Carter, Chief Executive, Centre for Cities; Clive Memmott, Chief Executive, Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce and Ruby Peacock, Deputy Head of Public Affairs, Federation of Small Businesses. The discussion was chaired by Richard Aitken-Davies, a past-President of ACCA and leading local Conservative Party activist.
Clive Memmott opened by giving the view of the Manchester Chamber on the issues faced by businesses looking to expand internationally both in Manchester but also in the north of England as a whole. Combined, the labour market of the main northern cities totals over 9 million people and the absence of good connectivity between these places is a firm barrier to the rebalancing agenda.
Andrew Carter elaborated on this point by making the case that connectivity and the ability to move people between, but more importantly within cities where the highest concentration of businesses and jobs are, was the best way of achieving business innovation, growth and ultimately international trade expansion.
Baroness Lucy focussed remarks on her time as a government Minister and shared views on what can be done by government at the policy level to support exports and expansion and the need to encourage businesses to be more active in the communities in which they operate. Andrew offered an alternative view of this by making the case that the best thing that government can do is to provide good market intelligence and then get out of the way, businesses will take the decisions that will enable them to grow based on good intelligence and that is where efforts should be focused.
Baroness Lucy also touched on the challenges presented to small businesses by late payments and this was a recurring theme throughout the discussion. To this end, Ruby Peacock of the FSB eloquently made the case that while the appointment of the new Small Business Commissioner is a welcome step towards addressing this issue, he must be given the necessary powers and, most importantly, resources to deal with the potentially millions of late payments complaints likely to come his way from the UK’s 5.5 million SME’s.
During questions, a lively debate ensued with questions focussed on credit and financing, infrastructure and the role of the industrial strategy. There was also a lively debate between panellists on the importance of geographical location versus productivity of business types.
The fringe meeting was a great example of ACCA’s developing stakeholder engagement programme and we will be following up with participants this week. Elsewhere at the Conservative Party conference we co-hosted an evening reception with over 400 attendees at which the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP covered the government’s plans for the Brexit negotiations and the threat of high levels of borrowing and debt on our consumer economy.
We’re also now sharing and building on a wealth of intelligence gathered from a huge number of fringe meetings, roundtables, dinners and interactions at the Labour and Conservative Party conferences.
Following a busy conference season for ACCA we are in a strong position to advance policy issues affecting both our members and the wider accountancy profession in 2018 and beyond. Watch this space and the next version of Policy Matters due in November for further updates!