‘Control the controllables rather than stress over Brexit’, Bath Economic Question Time told

July 6, 2018

Bath’s owner-managers should focus on their immediate business concerns and the challenges posed by the city’s infrastructure rather than hard-to-influence Brexit-related issues, the city’s third annual Economic Question Time heard.


Bath Chamber of Commerce & Initiative executive director Ian Bell told attendees at the breakfast event that key local issues such as the dearth of commercial space, ongoing transport and infrastructure problems and a lack of car parking were as important as the big picture of Brexit.


Mr Bell was part of a four-strong panel at the Economic Question Time staged by Bath-headquartered regional law firm Royds Withy King, accountancy group Bishop Fleming, which has an office in Bath, and HSBC.


He said: “Right now, solving these issues matters more to Bath’s economic prospects and its businesses compared with the mysteries of Brexit. So business owners should focus on controlling the controllables,” he said.


The event at Bath Racecourse had earlier been given an economic overview from Mark Berrisford-Smith, head of economics for UK commercial banking at HSBC, in which he painted a picture of slower-than-expected growth for the UK against Brexit’s uncertainties, but still struck a cautiously optimistic note.


“We have just had the two best years for the global economy since before the financial crisis struck in 2008. Every major economy bar one has seen its speed of growth increase,” he said, pointing out that the country whose growth slowed was the UK.


While acknowledging the “mysterious absence of inflation and too much debt” in the global economic picture, he also noted that the debt had mostly shifted from previous hotspots such as the US housing market and the UK financial system to an increasingly indebted China.


“Credit is getting tighter again now. Most economies have been growing faster but there’s a slowdown coming through now. That means 2018 won’t be as good as 2017 and central banks are starting to think about raising interest rates,” he told the audience.


There was not much way of knowing when the next downturn would hit, and he flagged the short-term uncertainties arising from Brexit. However, he described the long-term impact of the UK leaving the EU as small.


“Yes, Brexit is confusing right now. The UK needs to get a move on as its position is hard to understand because it just hasn’t been articulated,” he said.


For many companies, the most profound issue would be accessing European talent, which would likely get “quite a lot harder,” he said.


That issue was picked up during the question-and-answer session with the panel, which also included Stadium for Bath project chief technical officer Mike Bohndiek and Stephen Wicks, joint owner and director of Bath-based luxury home furniture business Silcox Son & Wicks.


Mr Wicks said Bath had always attracted EU workers and if they couldn’t come so easily – or at all – that would put pressure on businesses.


“The net effect will be wage and price increases, especially in retail, which is probably not an impact that people voted for, but that’s what we’ll get,” he said.


While acknowledging Bath’s well-known challenges, there were many positive developments on the horizon, including the Stadium for Bath project, which will regenerate Bath Rugby’s ground The Rec.


Mr Bohndiek spoke about the emerging design consultation that will get underway for the stadium from the middle of this month and the aspiration to have the stadium ready for the 2021/22 season.

“A sports stadium today needs to create a destination that delivers for community as a year-round facility,” he said.


“It’s not just about a rugby stadium but about creating a facility for young people, community groups and businesses – something, in other words, with lasting social and economic benefits for as many as possible. That’s what we are driving towards with Stadium for Bath.”


Pictured: The Bath Economic Question Time panel. From left: Bishop Fleming managing partner Andrew Sandiford; Silcox Son & Wicks owner Stephen Wicks; Bath Chamber executive director Ian Bell; HSBC UK Commercial Banking head of economics Mark Berrisford-Smith; Royds Withy King partner and head of real estate Paul Daniels; and Stadium for Bath chief technical officer Mike Bohndiek

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