Ruth George, MP for the High Peak, on her recent consultations with local business.

A Brexit deal must protect our SMEs

“Those opportunities exist today, will grow

during the construction of the line and continue long after the trains start running. “But there is a process that firms must follow

and unless they know what it is they will either arrive too late at the party for the best of the buffet or simply miss out altogether and we want to make sure that doesn’t happen.” Although tagged as HS2, the emphasis shifted

a long time ago from journey times to capacity. Providing slightly faster journeys between

London and Leeds, and possibly beyond, on a dedicated track with trains calling at fewer stations and improving connections to the east of the region via Birmingham, will release seats on trains on existing tracks. It will also increase available track pathways

for additional freight trains to serve the new Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI), called the East Midlands Gateway, adjacent to East Midlands Airport. Plans are being drawn up to create a free port area which would include East Midlands Airport and the SRFI. A free port essentially sits outside of UK customs territory, providing exemptions from taxes and duties. This would significantly enhance the

attractiveness of the area to inward investment and the appeal of the airport, already the UK’s busiest pure freight airport. Chris said: “The East Midlands Gateway SRFI

will unlock the huge economic benefits that come with the creation of 7,000 new jobs, will have a positive impact on the local distribution and logistics sector and will strengthen the region's offering as a key business location to inward investors. “We make things here in the East Midlands

that are sold throughout the UK, the EU and beyond. The area between Derby, Nottingham and Leicester is a real sweet spot for infrastructure development, with the potential to become a fulcrum for economic growth in years ahead. “This SRFI sits alongside other major regional

infrastructure developments, such as HS2, the electrification of the Midland Main Line – which the Government must commit to undertaking right through the region, not just to Corby and Kettering - and the Smart Motorways initiative. Taken together, these schemes will strengthen our ability to get people and goods in and out of the area, support supply chains and enable local businesses to get their products and services to market more quickly and more effectively.”

Having set up an accountancy business in High Peak several years ago, I am well aware of the importance of small businesses to our local economy – and community. As MP I appreciate the dialogue

with businesses large and small and am visiting as many as I can. With votes on our Brexit deal

approaching, and a heavy weight of responsibility on all MPs, I was keen to hear from local businesses that trade across Europe and the rest of the world so I organised a seminar with the University of Derby in Buxton. Over 20 businesses were represented, from multinationals to SMEs, between them employing nearly 2,000 people in High Peak - largely in skilled work in science, engineering and construction. Every business had major concerns about the risks of tariffs, bureaucracy at our

Government is still showing uncertainty

borders, skills shortages and regulatory divergence. Our companies are already seeing increased competition from companies in the EU27,

many of which are understandably keen to take advantage of the problems Brexit is causing for British firms. Several firms reported they were already losing business to EU competitors, with several forced to open premises and transfer some business abroad so they can continue to guarantee regulatory alignment and compete for contracts from EU customers. There were fears that additional bureaucracy will lead to delays at ports if we leave the Customs Union, slowing up supply chains and making businesses in the UK much harder to trade with. Overwhelmingly, the businesses present said they want to see our continued membership of the Customs Union. They were also keen to continue to trade on the preferential tariffs that the EU has

negotiated with around 60 other countries around the world, which we are in danger of losing. It would take decades for such deals to be replicated, and in the meantime UK businesses will suffer significant competitive disadvantage. I raised this point in Parliament and was pleased that in response the Government

committed to retaining the preferential tariffs. Although there is currently no visible route for how this will be achieved in negotiations, I am glad to have been able to get across the views of my local businesses, and hope that other MPs will be doing the same. Similar concerns were raised at a roundtable meeting organised in Glossop by the Chamber, which has been invaluable in providing the best advice they can to businesses across the region, but there is a profound lack of certainty from Government. I want to see a Brexit deal that protects businesses in High Peak and will continue to visit and liaise with local firms, as only they can deliver the jobs and prosperity we all need.

ABOUT RUTH GEORGE Ruth was elected as the Labour MP for High Peak in the 2017 General Election – the

first woman to represent the constituency. Initially, Ruth trained as a tax accountant, before following her passion for politics and

working as Parliamentary Officer for shopworkers’ union USDAW for nearly 20 years. Ruth is a very vocal MP, having led debates in Westminster on nursery funding, East

Midlands Ambulance Service and social care. She has been a critic of the Government’s roll- out of Universal Credit in her role on the Work and Pensions Select Committee and has set up the all-party group on Universal Credit to advise both MPs and the Government.

business network June 2018 33


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