Arguments over the UK’s membership of the European Union should be about policy not personality, according to the chairman of the Institute of Directors in the North East.
Speaking at the IoD’s Business Leaders’ Dinner at the Hilton Newcastle Gateshead hotel, Graham Robb criticised those who chose to “play the man, not the ball”.
“I have many friends who want to leave the EU, they do so out of deep-rooted principle and their arguments are coherent,” he said. “Nobody who takes a counter view does their case any favours by playing up to the media’s natural desire to make it personal.
“It is vital that people appreciate the consequences for jobs, prices and economic growth. Business leaders may take different positions, but they should not be afraid to stand up. This referendum is a momentous political choice. Let us make sure it is a well-informed one.”
Robb highlighted a number of business success stories that were creating jobs across the North East but said unemployment and a skills shortage remained the region’s biggest challenge.
He added: “It is a problem that can only be solved by accepting its causes are multi-faceted. We have vacancies in skilled trades, we have the people – but too often the people’s skills don’t match the vacancies. We also have capacity in the industries where skilled people are losing their jobs; fabrication is an excellent example.”
Robb reserved special praise for the North East’s emerging digital and technology sector, which had been boosted by the efforts of organisations including Teesside University and cloud computing provider Sage.
But he warned that the productivity of smaller businesses could be hit by increased costs: “New pensions arrangements for smaller businesses and the higher Living Wage have to be paid for somehow; together with the Apprenticeship levy – some would say payroll tax – they are a setback,” he said.
Robb reflected on strong membership growth for the IoD in the North East and growing engagement with major policy issues. He concluded: “This coming year is one in which business will harness the growth we have seen and continue to innovate in order to drive our region forward, creating better paid and more productive jobs.”
James Wharton MP, the minister responsible for the government’s Northern Powerhouse project, also spoke at the dinner which took place on Friday (11 March).
Partners for the event were the Hilton Newcastle Gateshead hotel, Microsoft and Square One Law.