‘We need clarity on Brexit’ says Ian Girling, Chamber Chief

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THE organisation known as the voice of Dorset business has been scrupulously impartial on the subject of Brexit.

But with months to go until Britain leaves the European Union – and little known about how life outside the union will look – the boss of Dorset Chamber of Commerce and Industry admits to frustration.

“I don’t think businesses knows what’s ahead. I talk to business – obviously we’re trading internationally and they’re carrying on, but ultimately business doesn’t really know what the future holds,” said chief executive Ian Girling.

“When we voted, we didn’t know what we were voting for. People thought ‘We want to be out of this’ but really didn’t understand what that meant. We’re so intertwined with Europe and it’s extremely difficult to disentangle that.

“To trade with Europe going forward we’re still going to have to meet European regulations anyway. I think we voted for something without thinking through what the consequences of that were.”

The chamber has 800 members, representing 37,000 employees across the county, with many more local chambers affiliated to it.

Before the referendum, it found 60 per cent of its members wanted to remain in the EU, 30 per cent leave and 10 per cent didn’t know. Mr Girling senses there has been a shift towards the Remain side since.

But he says businesses need clarity more than anything and are not getting it while politicians argue about the nature of Brexit and the government’s Chequers proposals for negotiations.

“It’s clearly causing nervousness. It’s very difficult to plan for the future. I think businesses are holding back on capital investment type projects because they just don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said.

“Straight away there was a huge reaction in terms of migrant workers moving back to the EU. That was immediate.”

He said the views of business had not been heeded during the 2016 referendum campaign.

“I think business was only one voice within the wider community. I don’t think the business voice was listened to particularly,” he said.

“Most people when they voted weren’t thinking about business. Lots of people were voting on immigration and the perceived bureaucracy of the EU. There weren’t very aware of Europe and didn’t really understand the consequences of the vote and what leaving meant.”

Very few local politicians had consulted the chamber, he said.

“I think potentially that MPs were completely out of touch with how businesses were feeling because they were quite strongly Leave and most businesses that I spoke to were Remain,” Mr Girling added.

Despite the uncertainty, he believes Dorset’s economy is strong.

“I think Dorset businesses are really resilient. Dorset’s got a really strong business community that works together. I think business confidence has held up despite the uncertainty government has been causing,” he said.

“Most businesses I speak to are doing well. Unemployment is extremely low. We haven’t got enough people for the jobs that are available.

“Tourism is buoyant. The weather this summer has been fantastic for Dorset.

“Businesses are optimistic but they just need clarity.”