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News - 24 April 2018

An evening with Chris Fox, Lib Dem Peer

Why Business Matters networking event

Why Business Matters

As Brexit is taking up so much parliamentary time and energy, the Liberal Democrats feel that government is struggling to focus on the other major challenges and existential threats facing business and the wider economy: technological change, geographical change / geopolitical shift, demographic change and environmental change.  To address this issue, the first regional meeting of the ‘ Liberal Democrats in Business’ group was held in Brighton last Tuesday, with guest speaker Lord Chris Fox, Lib Dem spokesperson for Business and Industry.

After a networking supper with the members, Chris went into more detail on what he felt were the areas which required government attention:

1.
     
Technology
-  the move to digital, Big Data, AI and Blockchain are changing everything at a faster rate than many people realise and will hugely impact the future of business and employment. Yet because of Brexit, the Government is unable to implement the actions recommended in the recent “Made Smarter Review” to address and take advantage of these changes.

2.
      
Geographical
– The rise of China means that as the UK steps away from the EU the country risks being cast adrift between the USA and China as they compete for economic and geopolitical power

3.
      
Demographics
– With our aging population and existing skills deficit,  the Government’s immigration policy risks cutting off the supply of talented young people with the skills the UK needs to work in our fast changing economy.

4.
      
Environment
– there’s a real opportunity for the UK to develop and sell green technologies globally being missed because of lack of focus and under-investment.

Turning to industrial strategy, Chris said there’s consensus in the House of Lords that the UK needs an industrial strategy but the current sector-based approach (e.g. aerospace, automotive, life sciences) favours the sectors that are the best organised rather than those that most need a clear strategy such as construction, where the first tier players are killing the second and third tier players. He went on to say that, ironically, Brexit will force the government to favour losers if it decides to negotiate deals on specific sectors because, with no real process in place to underpin decisions, it will end up favouring whoever shouts loudest for help.

Other areas critical to an effective industrial strategy are long term investment in skills development including a rethink of the current apprenticeship levy,  a focus on green and sustainable growth, delivering 21
st
century infrastructure to the whole country,  investment in world-class R&D and the upgrading of the regulatory environment to better manage technological and scientific changes.

Chris also stressed the importance of nurturing entrepreneurs – especially financing the ability to scale up their businesses. With a lot of confusion in the structure and distribution of Regional Development Funds following recent re-organisations and in the wake of Brexit, the lack of access to investment and funding for growth for the many start-ups and SMEs in Brighton and across Sussex was raised by several members. In the discussion that followed, Chris also highlighted the importance of encouraging diverse types of business organisations including co-operatives, social enterprises as well as limited companies and partnerships, another feature of the Brighton and Sussex business scene.

As such, the Liberal Democrats in Business group are looking to engage more with local businesses to access what the community really needs to overcome barriers to success and drive progress.  Future meetings will focus on generating ideas for policy changes that can make a real difference to the success of local business. For further information contact Lib Dems in Business at paullucraft@btinternet.com or Brighton and Hove Liberal Democrats at info@liberalbrighton.org


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