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Demand for poll next year

‘Call Europe referendum early to end uncertainty’ says ICAEW

European Union The government was urged last night to bring forward the referendum on Europe to remove uncertainty that will linger until the issue of membership is resolved.

Liz Rylatt, executive director at the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW), said most businesses wanted Britain to remain in Europe and for government to focus on other key key issues.

Prime Minister David Cameron has promised a vote on Britain’s membership of the EU by 2017 but hinted that it could take place next year.

Ms Rylatt, speaking at the annual finance directors excellence awards in London, added to earlier calls for an early vote from Bank of England governor Mark Carney.

She said: “I would like to see the referendum brought forward. It only creates uncertainty. Most business people want to be in Europe, we need to export more to Europe, and we need more productivity. These are big challenges and we need a long term view.”

Her comments came on the eve of a survey from the ICAEW/Grant Thornton, conducted before the protracted General Election campaign which it said “created uncertainty that led to businesses holding fire on their investment and growth plans”

The UK Business Confidence Monitor (BCM) showed that confidence was flat last quarter, as the survey suggests turnover and profit growth over the next 12 months will be weaker than the past year.

Key findings for Q2 2015:

·         The BCM Confidence Index stands at +16.2, down marginally from +16.8 – showing that outlook has stabilised in positive territory following falls in the last few quarters

·         This is potentially underpinned by a slowdown in input price growth, which slowed sharply over the last quarter and is expected to do so in the next year

·         Turnover and profit growth are down from last quarter, and businesses expect them to weaken over the next 12 months – the first time businesses have felt less positive about their profitability since before the financial crisis

·         Employee salary growth is continuing to outstrip inflation, but only because inflation remains low, not due to any major increase in pay packets

·         Exports continue to weaken, as the gap widens between it and domestic demand, making the recovery even more unbalanced and creating concerns over its sustainability

·         Spare capacity has increased in the manufacturing sector, while it also struggles with access to a skilled workforce

Michael Izza, ICAEW Chief Executive, said: “The prolonged period of political and economic uncertainty has clearly had a material impact on business confidence in the last few months with investment, hiring, wage increases and exports all being on pause. With a clear majority, the incoming Government now has to move quickly to get the UK economy moving forward again.

“The first priority should be to grow our exports. The UK desperately needs to rebalance the economy. As the BCM reveals, the gap between our exports and domestic demand is widening even more. While growth built on domestic demand is fine for the moment, soon the benefits of low inflation and cheaper petrol will evaporate. It is crucial that we look to boost our exports both inside and outside the EU. Businesses need to think global from the start, and we need to make it easier for them to trade internationally.

“The second priority is the UK’s relationship with Europe. There is an increasing urgency to negotiating reform and holding a referendum. The risk is that, for the next two years, the UK is effectively closed to inward investment from countries within and outside the European Union. That’s why the Prime Minister must agree a package of reforms without delay and put that to the British people in a referendum as soon as is practically possible.”

Sacha Romanovitch, CEO-elect of Grant Thornton UK, added: “The new government has the opportunity to refocus its efforts on making British business the powerhouse it can be. To do so, it needs to engage with business and ensure the voice of its critical mid-market companies is heard loud and clear, and develop a policy framework aimed at supporting its growth. This must include help in exporting and talent generation – areas we know British businesses want the Government’s support with and which could unlock significant potential across the economy.

“The strength of the economic recovery largely depends on rebalancing the trade deficit, ensuring British businesses are getting the help they need in new markets abroad, and also sending clear signals to the international community that Britain is ‘open for business’, a dynamic place to invest in. Businesses at home and abroad tell us that they are concerned about a potential ‘Brexit’, particularly around talent flows and a captive market that still accounts for half of our export trade.

“A priority for the government must be to negotiate a package of reforms to our relationship with the EU to bring to the country. While it’s understandable that business confidence has stagnated given the run up to the election, now that is concluded we would hope that with clear action on Europe, skills and reducing regulation that business confidence will again improve.”

>  ICAEW awards, See Awards (Under People)

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