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Brexit: The challenges and the opportunities

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The UK’s decision to leave the EU will present both challenges and opportunities for members. But it’s important that the other issues are not put on the back burner

Most people who start businesses are natural optimists, who see positives as well as negatives. That’s the approach we’re encouraging members to take in the wake of the decision to leave the European Union. Brexit is a reality now and, while there are challenges, there are also opportunities.

A good example of this is exporting. Our survey, highlighted in this issue’s cover feature, reveals that more than 90 per cent of members who export are focused on the EU. Yet there are many emerging markets that offer good opportunities for exporters, and we want to encourage people to think more globally than they have done previously.

There will also remain significant opportunities to trade with the EU. One of the calls we’re making is to ensure easy access to European markets for members. We don’t want new tariffs or regulatory barriers that will choke off an export-led recovery, so it’s important we get that deal right.

But we don’t want the next two years to be solely focused on Brexit. We need Government to focus on the domestic agenda as well. With quarterly reporting, we’re more optimistic that Government is listening to our concerns. But we need to make sure the new Government continues to move in the direction it was before the EU referendum.

Business rates are also on the agenda, with firms receiving their revaluations in September. Members need to be aware of this, but they also need to watch out for the emergence of ratings consultants who claim they can achieve reductions. We want to urge caution here; if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Infrastructure is an area where there are opportunities, too. The rigid deadline of balancing the books by 2020 has been abandoned, freeing Government to push ahead with investments that have been held up. HS2 is one example, and we’ve negotiated arrangements on the use of smaller firms as part of the wider supply chain within that. Any doubt around that project needs to be dismissed. We also need to push ahead with airport expansion. We supported the introduction of the Airports Commission and it was clear in its recommendation, so now we need Government to act.

With broadband, we’re still focusing on ensuring quality as well as increasing the numbers with access. We’re asking for a universal service obligation to maintain the 10Mbps speed, and we can’t afford any backtracking. We also secured commitments on energy market reforms, and it’s important these are embedded with a new Energy Minister.

Elsewhere, we are continuing to promote women entrepreneurs, and have launched an exciting campaign with Facebook’s She Means Business. There’s been a massive reaction and great take-up. We’re also pushing bigger firms to use their apprenticeship levy to enable their supply chain to take on apprentices – something that would benefit both smaller and larger organisations.

So there’s a lot going on, and we cannot afford to put everything on hold for two years as we negotiate our ‘divorce’ settlement. We remain focused on the big issues that matter to small businesses, and we need Government to do the same.