Business reaction to the forthcoming election

  • Caroline Williams
Caroline Williams, Chief Executive, Norfolk Chamber of Commerce

So the Prime Minister is seeking to capitalise on her high standing in the polls to gain a personal mandate to carry out her programme for government by calling an election on the 8th June.

From the perspective of business, the economic logic is decidedly unclear.

There are sure to be some voices in business who believe that an ample political mandate could strengthen the PM’s position in the forthcoming Brexit negotiations, and allow her to undertake a bolder domestic reform programme. However,  I am willing to bet that there will be those in the Norfolk business community who will see an election as a new source of distraction and uncertainty.

Nearly two months of election fever means less attention will be paid to the domestic economic agenda and the detailed preparations for Brexit, as ministers campaign, Whitehall goes into Purdah lock-down, and politicians down tools on legislation in order to canvass on doorsteps.

 At best, six weeks of vital preparation time will be lost; at worst, post-election ministerial changes could make the period of transition much longer. Question marks also now hang over a range of unfinished consultations, reviews and projects — some of which may not survive post-election.  

The media frenzy surrounding the election are likely to affect the spirits of business, as well. In survey after survey since the referendum vote, the British Chambers of Commerce have been reporting solid levels of overall business confidence.  However, further volatility in sterling, which nose-dived prior to the PM’s announcement and then soared thereafter, will be a big factor as firms weigh up their business models, and plans to invest or recruit.

Two key questions will be on the minds of many businesses over the coming days — questions which Mrs May, and indeed the leaders of the other political parties, will need to address.

First, what does the election mean for the terms and path of Brexit? Norfolk businesses will want more clarity, and to know exactly where each main party stands on the key threats and opportunities that lie ahead. They’ll also want assurances that the tone of the campaign doesn’t undermine the eventual winner’s ability to work with their European opposite numbers on the best possible Brexit deal.

Second, what happens to the domestic business agenda? For the vast majority of companies in the business community I speak to, Brexit feels far off — whereas the high up-front cost of doing business, poor mobile and broadband, the inability to recruit successfully for vacancies or inadequate transport infrastructure are what matters.

Although many businesses say they are growing more used to political uncertainty, having navigated the 2015 General Election and the 2016 EU referendum before being presented with General Election 2017. Yet they are watching carefully — and will rightly demand answers on the big economic questions from all parties over the coming weeks.

It is an important time to get the Norfolk business voice heard loud and clear so please do support the Norfolk Chamber over the coming weeks and months as we put your opinions in front of Ministers and local political candidates. 

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