We store cookies on your device to make sure we give you the best experience on this website. I'm fine with this - Turn cookies off
Switch to an accessible version of this website which is easier to read. (requires cookies)

Adrian's response to Suffolk Chamber of Commerce

December 2, 2019 3:32 PM
Originally published by Ipswich Liberal Democrats

Response to Suffolk Chambers of Commerce 2019 General Election Campaign Adrian Hyyrylainen-Trett

Before I address the specific questions the Chamber has put to me, I would like to comment on the two overlying themes in 2020 and Beyond: Business Priorities for the Next UK Government produced by the British Chambers of Commerce.

Firstly, climate change is undoubtedly the greatest challenge facing the next Government with the journal Nature announcing in a paper 27 November 2019 that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change tipping point has been reached. I fully concur with the BCC that net-zero greenhouse gas emissions must be achieved by 2050. The next five years will be critical if we are to avoid irreversible damage - action must be taken.

Secondly, as a good Liberal Democrat, I agree that the devolution agenda must be reignited. The UK is one of the most centralised governments in the G20 and giving greater decision making powers and funding to the regions will lead to greater business success.

I also believe Brexit is the most consequential decision for businesses and the UK people since the Second World War, and the problems of leaving the EU loom over the more specific questions the Chamber has put to me.

What do you think are the three biggest issues facing Suffolk businesses in the constituency in which you are standing?

1.1. Education and Skills.

Central Ipswich has one of the lowest levels of attainment in education and skills in the UK (in 2017, the Centre for Cities ranked Ipswich as 61st out of the largest 63 cities and towns in the UK for the percentage of residents with an NVQ4 equivalent or above). In addition to problems this directly presents to businesses and employers in attracting highly skilled workers, it also has significant impacts elsewhere in the local economy reducing Gross Value Added through lack of productivity and creating a vicious circle where many talented and skilled young people born in Ipswich seek employment elsewhere in the UK. Impacts can also be both under-reported and unexpected. For example, the Centre for Cities confirms a significant correlation between good education levels and economically healthy high streets.

1.2. Connectivity.

A successful local economy relies on fast and efficient communication links, which are both physical in relation to transport and digital in IT terms.

Ipswich suffers from a high level of congestion for road transport within the town centre. Suffolk Highways traffic surveys and modelling show the vast majority of this congestion arises from commuting into the town from outside districts (55%) together with short journeys by car into work.

Ipswich and its immediate hinterland also suffer from congestion on strategic routes. The A14 south and east of Ipswich will be at or over capacity by the end of the next plan period in 2036 and improvements to the A12 to the south have been long promised but have yet to appear.

Passenger rail links east-west of Ipswich are very poor and main line services to London have not consistently achieved 60 minutes. Fares are some of the highest per mile in the whole of the UK (Greater Anglia pay the second highest franchise fee). Freight services are constricted by problems at Ely, and high capacity on the main line into London.

Digitally, superfast broadband is essential if Ipswich is to maintain its position as a major technology hub (a top ten centre in Tech Nation tables) and mobile networks lack reliability and infrastructure upgrading.

Consequently, although Ipswich may have better connectivity than most of Suffolk, it is still poor on a national comparison.

1.3.Town Centre

Ipswich has suffered from under-investment in its public realm for decades largely as a result of indifference from Suffolk county councillors towards the county town and a scarcity of central government spending. This lack of infrastructure investment makes the town less attractive to outside

Passenger rail links east-west of Ipswich are very poor and main line services to London have not consistently achieved 60 minutes. Fares are some of the highest per mile in the whole of the UK (Greater Anglia pay the second highest franchise fee). Freight services are constricted by problems at Ely, and high capacity on the main line into London.

Digitally, superfast broadband is essential if Ipswich is to maintain its position as a major technology hub (a top ten centre in Tech Nation tables) and mobile networks lack reliability and infrastructure upgrading.

Consequently, although Ipswich may have better connectivity than most of Suffolk, it is still poor on a national comparison.

1.3.Town Centre

Ipswich has suffered from under-investment in its public realm for decades largely as a result of indifference from Suffolk county councillors towards the county town and a scarcity of central government spending. This lack of infrastructure investment makes the town less attractive to outside investors.

Online shopping is also reducing the size of the retail offer in Ipswich with fewer shops and less selection or range of businesses. Commercial rates also limit profitability and the growth of successful retail, hospitality and tourism businesses within the town.

The success of the Waterfront is both a threat and an opportunity for the town centre.

A thriving and vibrant town centre would have a profound effect on the confidence of the town and its residents.

If you were elected, how do you propose working with Suffolk Chamber of Commerce to address these issues?

2.1. Education and Skills.

I consider that at both national and local levels, the Chambers have totally taken on board the need to improve levels of attainment, and I would support and promote many of your objectives. I think the GE2019 Manifesto correctly identifies the need to improve 16-18 education and training. In Ipswich, this would take place both in the sixth form classroom for academic subjects and in Suffolk College for technical subjects. I believe we also need to strive to achieve parity of regard for both technical and academic study.

The Chamber has a good reputation for partnering with schools and colleges and this is an area I would like to develop further. Too many children fail to recognise the opportunities within the town that businesses can offer them once they have completed their studies (although I also applaud and support the BCC Manifesto's commitment to life long learning!)

I would also work with the Chamber to improve our apprenticeship schemes in Ipswich and seek to obtain higher funding for them.

I believe our policies on child care (35 hours of free child care from nine months) will enable more family members to access both better education and skills training benefitting both businesses and the individuals concerned. The BCC Manifesto identifies this as a key area to develop and I would hope we can both support each other in this regard.

Finally, I would wish to thank the Chamber for the imputs and advice it has given to the Ipswich Opportunity Fund and previously to the County Raising the Bar initiative. I believe businesses, schools and colleges all share a common purpose in giving our young people the best chance to achieve success within a rapidly changing work environment.

2.2. Connectivity.

I recognise that connectivity problems, particularly relating to road transport, are perceived as a major restraint to businesses within Ipswich. The Chamber has responded to the Suffolk County Council Northern Route Consultation and favours a new road along the Middle Route. I confess I have serious reservations about this approach. I do not believe that a business case in highway terms can be made. As the Northern Route is a local rather than a strategic road, it will require major self-funding towards a budget estimated somewhere between £500 and £600 million (and given the disastrous reputation the County has on costing infrastructure this could well be far more). This could only be achieved by additional housing of at least 15,000 units and probably closer to 20,000 units. This is in addition to the 15,000 currently planned in the Ipswich Strategic Planning Area. This is totally unfeasible and will be strongly resisted by the communities affected and their MPs (D. Poulter and T. Coffey are firmly against it). From an Ipswich point of view, the Middle Route would not relieve town centre congestion with even the Inner Route estimated to have practically no effect (the Consultation gives a 2% reduction figure).

A better, and more reasonable, approach would be to address the A14 congestion by looking at improvements to the Copdock Interchange and, longer term, other junctions. This would be financed by central government as part of the strategic network. Additionally, I understand the Chamber's aim of improving connectivity east-west in the County (which will benefit Ipswich as well) and would suggest more realistic schemes, such as a Coddenham by-pass, be considered.

On broadband and mobile infrastructure, I would aim to support the Chamber's improvement objectives both on a national and local level.

2.3. Town Centre.

An improved town centre will require close partnership working with all stakeholders. I know that Ipswich Central through its Ipswich Vision project have put forward a plan which compliments that of Ipswich Borough Council. The Chamber has a vital role in moving this forward.

The 2017 Ipswich Economic Area Sector Needs Assessment shows major increases in town centre employment. The Chamber has the expertise to co-ordinate inward investment in growing sectors such as business and professional services, computing and technology, health and care and hospitality and leisure. This growth could be transformative for Ipswich.

The Liberal Democrats are also the only party committed to a major reform of commercial rates. Our Commercial Landowner Levy will place the onus of tax on the land and not the investment on it. This will encourage investment in new ventures as successful businesses will not be penalised by increased rates.

To what extent do you think Brexit is an opportunity or challenge for the Suffolk business community - and in what ways?

3.1. It is no secret that the Liberal Democrats would seek to Stop Brexit and that, consequently, I can see many challenges for the Suffolk business community if we leave the EU and very few, if any, opportunities.

3.2. The BCC Manifesto confirms that in the UK we are facing the longest period of sustained annual decline in business investment for 17 years and that Brexit uncertainty is a major factor. It is my opinion that Brexit is the overwhelming factor as such a decline has not been seen in the EU as a whole.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies in their 2019 Green Budget state that GDP is £60 billion a year less than it would have been if the 2016 Referendum had not happened due to the uncertainty affecting investment together with currency volatility. If the Conservatives win the Election, this uncertainty will not be relieved as they have committed to leaving with or without a free trade agreement by 31 December 2020. Independent trade negotiators state that a FTA will take many years to conclude unless drastic concessions are made making such a FTA little better than no deal. The Chamber is, rightly, against such an outcome. The Labour Party will supposedly re-negotiate the Withdrawal Agreement within six months, which is equally unrealistic. A no deal or a no deal type FTA would be disastrous for Suffolk business.

3.3. Certain sectors of Suffolk business will be particularly damaged by leaving the EU with anything less than a FTA with close alignment. Agriculture and food processors could be badly damaged with tariffs for exporters together with exposure to world imports of low standard foodstuffs. Organic producers face a 12 month bar to the EU market due to lack of certification.

3.4. Exporters face an annual UK cost of £15 billion according to HMRC for administrative costs in completing customs forms.

3.5. Skilled and unskilled workers from the EU to Suffolk are coming in very much reduced numbers with many leaving. The Office for National Statistics shows a decline in net EU immigration of

approx.400% since 2015 - now 48,000 nationally. There is no certainty on how this labour shortage will be addressed. It cannot be replaced internally within the time period, even if education and skill training within Suffolk is massively improved. Accordingly, Suffolk businesses are likely to be challenged by a shortage of labour.

3.6. Many businesses in Ipswich have significant European ownership. Even with close alignment in a FTA, relationships and future investment are bound to be affected.

3.7. Opportunities outside the EU are, as I have mentioned earlier, difficult to identify. Most Brexiters accept there will be negative consequences in the short to medium term. Jacob Rees-Mogg believes this period will be decades. Looser regulatory standards are, in my opinion, illusory as we will need to trade overseas under international standards most likely controlled by secret arbitration panels.

3.8. I fully appreciate that the Chamber will have real life examples of the negative impact of a Brexit without a comprehensive FTA and would welcome any input from members.

4. Conclusion

In conclusion, I would like to thank the Chamber for the opportunity they have given me to expand on the Liberal Democrat position towards business in Ipswich Central. I would recommend that members look at our national Manifesto, which I believe follows the BCC approach in many ways. Paul Johnson of the IFS has today (28 November) stated that:

"...their (Lib Dem) manifesto confirms that they are now the only major party committed to reduce the national debt as a fraction of national income, a goal now abandoned by both Labour and the Conservatives."

Given the Prime Minister's attitude towards the business community ("F..k Business!) and the dangers of a Corbyn led government, I truly believe the Liberal Democratic Party are the party of business and that we share many of the aims and objectives of the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce for the future of Ipswich.

Adrian Hyyrylainen-Trett

Ipswich

28 November 2019

page5image1699952