Business leaders discuss Brexit ‘opportunities’ at conference

‘THERE is a lot of positivity surrounding Brexit – businesses will always find a way. There are opportunities that we can take forward and enjoy a better future.’

That was the defiant message from businesses who attended Solent Local Enterprise Partnership’s (LEP) annual conference at the Hilton Ageas: Countdown to Brexit.

Speakers at the Solent LEP conference. Picture: solentstudios.com

Speakers at the Solent LEP conference. Picture: solentstudios.com

Despite an acceptance of heading into uncharted territory, leaders of industry spoke of how the impending Brexit vote could prove fruitful to an already prosperous region with it creating more opportunities.

Gary Jeffries, chairman of Solent LEP, said: ‘We have businesses capable of competing on the international stage and securing transformation and levels of investment.

‘The government has set out a significant role for LEPs in supporting an ambitious long term vision to make Britain the most innovative economy with good jobs and a greater earning potential for all.

‘The Solent area will be critical in boosting the national economy which will be driven by strong leadership with an ambitious vision for the future.

Mr Jeffries spoke of the opportunities to ‘champion our world class economy and environment’ by working together. This would be achieved by using the Solent’s coastal area – ‘rich in natural assets’ where the maritime industry is key.

He  revealed that more ore than £77b of imports and export goods moved through Southampton and Portsmouth ports, emphasising its importance to the local and national economy.

In terms of the defence sector, he added: ‘We are establishing an innovation hub as part of a £23m national maritimes system centre redevelopment at Portsdown Technology Park – increasing growth and fostering greater collaboration for UK maritime enterprise.’

Meanwhile Ray Haworth, engineering manager of Airbus in Portsmouth, said: ‘It’s important for us to get a picture of what is going on and learn from others in industry. We hope to be able to build strong relations with LEP which hopefully will bring us other opportunities.

‘It’s hard to say what the impact of Brexit will be but we are making contingency plans. If we have a no-deal Brexit then at least we know what we have to work with whereas with a deal there will be another 18 months of negotiation. It is the not knowing where we stand that it hard to deal with.

‘Unemployment in Portsmouth is at its lowest ever rate at 4.7 per cent which is good but means there is a shortage of people to employ. But recruitment into engineering is something we are looking at, especially in terms of seeing more women.’

Keynote speaker, Paul Holland, the CEO of Fareham based data company Beyond Encryption, said:  ‘Brexit is more likely to have an impact on our clients with the life, pensions and investment markets, as well as with the legal and professional services.

‘Our clients have had to become very cognitive of the changes. The data challenges are going to persist. Investment businesses have certainly had to consider where they live and operate from.’

Neil Garwood, managing director of Southampton airport, said the runaway will be expanded next year which will encourage ‘growth and connectivity for businesses in the region to thrive with greater opportunities to enjoy a better future.’