“Profound change ahead”: MP tells business awards.

Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones congratulated the winners at the Harrogate Advertiser series business awards last week and spoke about the challenges confronting businesses. An extract from Mr Jones’s speech is given below:

“The last few years have been the most extraordinary time for business, and indeed the whole of the country and world.

It has been a period of one challenge after another. They have just kept coming. The implications of the 2008 financial crash, Brexit, COVID, inflation, war in Europe.

It is an astonishing list. And each has brought its own different challenges.

The resilience shown by business has been fantastic.

Just thinking through what people have had to do.

Re-engineer supply chains as lockdowns across the world have impacted. Geo-politics has disrupted in a greater way than for decades.

Simply staying afloat as whole sectors were closed.

Dealing with inflation, which had been building in the system, but the Ukraine war has tipped it from problem to crisis.

It has not been business as usual.

I think in fact it has been a fantastic performance from business.

Keeping the nation fed, and with power and services. Ensuring there has been a business standing ready to bounce back.

It has required acting with speed. Being nimble to open new channels to market. Changing products and supply chains.

There has been real excellence in business and there is so much to recognise and celebrate.

The challenges are not over of course. The main one that business raises with me now is the difficulty in recruiting.

We are undoubtedly in a very tight labour market. Indeed, the same phenomenon is being seen in most western economies.

Locally, the latest data shows we have 2 per cent unemployment. This compares to nearly double that nationally. Youth unemployment is also near historic lows.

The market has moved from an employer’s one, to an employee’s one.

Businesses have also raised concerns about the costs of fuel and power. And this is a most critical area as it impacts so many others. I think we may see prices stabilise but I am cautious about expecting a big fall.

We are in a period of profound change in our economy with changing labour markets. The move towards a more digital economy has been accelerated, so has the focus on environment.

Whatever happens I know the businesses in our area will be at the forefront of progress.

The pandemic for me saw more contact with businesses than at any time since I was a part of the local business community when I was at Bettys and Taylors. Those contacts were all about signposting the various support schemes available and getting feedback from the front line to policy makers.

Indeed, we saw some policy changes directly as a result. I am thinking about health and beauty salons, and working to ensure they could reopen. And particularly alcohol duty.

The Harrogate Tipple had lost their hospitality customers due to lockdown but could see how to pivot to producing sanitiser, which of course our country needed urgently.

They could see how to do it, but the duty regime needed to change. I took it to the Treasury and we worked to get it changed. It was changed, and quickly too. So, all over the country micro distilleries found new products and markets as they pivoted to produce what our country really needed.

All that came from Stephen Green of Harrogate Tipple getting in touch, so a big thank you to him.

As we move forward, I would like to see that feedback continue, so please never hesitate to pick up the phone.

If you will forgive a few words about policy.

The national focus will be on increasing the capacity and productivity, the connectivity and particularly skills and how we can increase resilience quickly.

Our area has bounced back more quickly in this area than almost all others. We had very positive data on Tuesday about the visitor economy.

The sectors of the future have been growing – for example, I joined a local robotics manufacturer a few days ago to see their new products.

When I look at the business community here I see innovation and determination, new products and new markets, including export and investment in skills.

There are pressures and challenges too, of course, but these will be overcome.”