DBF June Conference: Brexit and Beyond

DBF’s June conference Coleg Cambria.

Refreshments were kindly sponsored by HSBC Bank Plc UK and the Development Bank of Wales Plc.

DBF Chair Askar Sheibani opened the conference, paying tribute to DBF’s campaign for fibre optic connectivity across North Wales. He informed attendees of the positive news regarding DBF’s role in the region with praise from Shadow Brexit Secretary Kier Starmer who recently visited Deeside. Rebecca Long-Bailey MP yesterday held a consultation with businesses and most of the participants are members of DBF.

The President of DBF Lord Barry Jones expanded Mr Sheibani’s contribution, stating he is “proud of DBF for getting things done”. He praised Flintshire County Council Leader Aaron Shotton and Alyn & Deeside’s recently elected Welsh Assembly Member Jack Sargeant. In his warning that the “mighty challenge of Brexit” has come forward and is the biggest decision other than war, he called for locality to be retained and cooperation in the approach to tackling global challenges.

Infrastructure Developments Update from Streetscene

Stephen Jones, Chief Officer of Streetscene for Flintshire County Council, provided an update regarding infrastructure developments in the area on the North Wales Metro, the integrated transport solution vision from the Welsh Government. On rail, he noted that the recently announced project to upgrade trains will eventually mean two trains an hour on the Wrexham-Bidston line. He also noted significant investment for works of the new station on Deeside Industrial Park Zone 3 and Hawarden Bridge in partnership with Network Rail.

At the end of June, the ongoing cycle route developments on Zone 3 will be completed, said Flintshire County Council’s Technical and Performance Manager Ian Bushell. This is with the view to complete the one-way system on Tenth Avenue not long after. He also said there will be a similar development for Zone 2 with parking regulations and new cycle paths for Fourth Avenue with a consultation event in due course.

He also said that the Deeside Shuttle, currently operated by P&O Lloyd is set to put new buses into service in September. For the long-term future of the amenity, there are plans to introduce a 15-minute shuttle service across Zones 1-3 and integrated ticketing as part of the Welsh Government’s North Wales Metro. Currently, the county council is looking to purchase land to position its shuttle exchange.

Expect to be “Slightly Worse Off” After Brexit

Head of Economics for HSBC UK Commercial Banking Mark Berrisford-Smith opened by asserting two key points that haven’t changed. The first, the polls haven’t really seen a lot of change in the favourability of political parties. And the other, that with less than a year to go, we still don’t know what Brexit is going to look like.

He said that there is “no looming Armageddon” but we can expect to be “slightly worse off after Brexit” and he did provide some indicators for this. The modest 2% growth since 2016’s EU Referendum has meant a falling pound, which has encouraged exports to outpace imports for the first time since 2011. The expectation is 1.5% of GDP growth for the rest of the year. Although we were top of the world economies for growth, we are now in the middle and that trend is likely to continue.

Some factors could affect this, he said. The first is that we are a services economy foremost and trade isn’t always forthcoming. The second is that the Bank of England isn’t likely to raise interest rates this year or next and this can make fighting economic downturns harder. The third is that reduced migration can knock off around 0.3% of growth.

He discussed the government’s bill which will be introduced that will make Britain’s exit from the European Union (EU) possible. Although the House of Lords can’t stop Brexit, it can delay it but even this he said would be the “nuclear option”. He predicted that the government should have a majority of around 13 in the House of Commons but stressed that this could easily change.

The chief economist concluded with the prediction that given that the government’s preferred “max-fac” option for Brexit is thwarted by HMRC’s claim that the technology does not exist and a customs union like Turkey’s is not ideal from the EU’s perspective.

Gaynor Dykes, Grant Thornton

There is £74 billion of untapped growth potential, said Regional Manager of Growth Finance for Grant Thornton, presenting a recent paper published by the business consulting firm.

She highlighted that most barriers to growth are technology, marketing, recruitment and partnerships, including supply chains rather than Brexit itself. Although technology is the number one barrier according to their survey, it is also the number one accelerator for business growth providing a solid return on investment.

Mike Owen, Development Bank of Wales

The final speaker of the day, Mike Owen is the Group Investment Director for the Development Bank of Wales. His talk highlighted that the Development Bank of Wales has increased the supply of its funds from £7.8 million in 2016-2017 to £16.8 million in 2017-2018. This has meant an increase from 46 businesses supported in 2016-2017 to 81 to 2017-2018.

What sets them apart from other development funds like the Northern Powerhouse funds provided by central government is that Development Bank of Wales has the cash to supply themselves, which means far fewer hoops to jump through and reducing the time it takes to transfer the funds.