We must not talk ourselves into a recession, says Chamber boss

THE UK must not talk itself into a recession after voting for Brexit, the president of Leeds Chamber has warned.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 27th July 2016, 2:30 pm
Updated Thursday, 25th August 2016, 8:25 pm
Date: 2nd November 2015. Picture James Hardisty, (JH1011/10a) Gerald Jennings, President of Leeds Chamber of Commerce.
Date: 2nd November 2015. Picture James Hardisty, (JH1011/10a) Gerald Jennings, President of Leeds Chamber of Commerce.

Gerald Jennings told the Leeds Chamber annual lunch that the UK economy remains strong, and most local firms continued to have a positive attitude.

He added: “The (Brexit) vote has created uncertainty and we will need to work hard to resolve the challenges and issues we now face. But that’s what business does on a daily basis.

“We need to focus on the future and build a strong, dynamic and vibrant economy that will benefit all who live, work and play in Leeds and the wider city region.”

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After the referendum, the chamber called on the Government to focus on issues that had been side-lined during the referendum campaign, Mr Jennings said.

Mr Jennings told the lunch at the Queens Hotel in Leeds: “I don’t think any of us were expecting the Shakespearian drama which unfolded directly afterwards. However, with the new Government in place we need them to move quickly back to the business of running the country and helping us do what we do best - running our businesses.

“It is now more important than ever that we see real and deliverable investment in the North. There is a feeling of economic disenfranchisement and, I think, with some considerable justification. It is time our Westminster politicians thought more about how they can work collaboratively with businesses and local stakeholders rather than their party politics and help us to help their constituents.

“Maintaining business confidence and supporting growth, matched by action, should be the primary focus of the Government and we need to see action to boost growth by delivering the urgently required modernisation of our infrastructure and incentivising business investment.”

Mr Jennings said that plans to revive the South Bank of Leeds offers “one of the biggest opportunities for the city over the coming years”.

Mr Jennings said: “The city council is currently carrying out a consultation on a framework for the South Bank and I would urge all of you to take part and make your voice heard. From the chamber’s perspective, many in the room will know how influential we were in encouraging a rethink about the location of the proposed HS2 station, something which will have an enormous effect on the city and South Bank in particular. The report we published last summer played an instrumental part in ensuring that when HS2 arrives, it will do so as part of an integrated railway station in the heart of our city.”

Mr Jennings said he hoped to bring the newly appointed Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, to Leeds to meet business leaders in due course.

He continued: “And speaking of transport, we heard recently that Leeds has once again been turned down for a mass transit system...I understand the city council is to convene a scrutiny panel to review what went wrong. Whilst I understand the need to learn from past mistakes, as a business community we cannot allow this to be used as political capital to point fingers.

“There should be no place in this city for a blame culture. Instead, we must look to the future and work collaboratively to deliver a solution fit for the 21st century. We have regular meetings with all the transport and public sector authorities and continue to press for the delivery of transport investment which we all know is badly needed.

“Keeping on the theme of city opportunities, the chamber is currently working on a report looking into the Leeds waterfront. The river and canal that runs through Leeds has, in my view, been long overlooked as one of our potential jewels in the crown.”

Mr Jennings highlighted the fact that the Leeds-Liverpool canal - “Britain’s longest single man-made waterway” - will mark its 200th anniversary in October.

“I would be interested to know how many others in the room share my feelings that the waterfront has been, and continues to be, such an under-utilised asset. In some ways, we’ve seen the river as more of a threat, and of-course we suffered hugely just over six months ago with the floods. The theme of our report will be based around accessibility, attractiveness and activity.”

The chamber is a massive supporter of the city’s bid to be European Capital of Culture in 2023, Mr Jennings said.

He added: “As the business leaders of this city, I believe we must get behind the bid and ensure the very strongest case is made to guarantee success.

“It is unclear, however, if we will be allowed to bid after we trigger Article 50 and leave the EU. The work that has started on the 2023 bid has already shown how the city can come together.

“If it turns out we are prohibited from bidding, then I believe we should have our own Leeds International Cultural Festival, for a whole 12 months and earlier than 2023.

“We need to make so much more of the cultural and artistic assets we have in the city, and use them to sell Leeds as a place to be.

“There is no shortage of talent in this city and city region and I believe we could make this a hugely successful event, in the same way we set the bar to new heights for the Tour de France Grand Depart.”