An across-the-board freeze on business rates, fairer payment terms for SMEs supplying big firms and government, and the importance of effective political lobbying – just three of the issues raised at Hampshire Chamber of Commerce’s annual conference this week.
More than 120 delegates representing services, manufacturing and creative industries attended the Talking Business event to debate and hear expert analysis of the business scene.
Guest speaker Dr Adam Marshall, Director of Policy and External Affairs at British Chambers of Commerce, called on politicians of all parties to focus on long-term business support to grow the economy and avoid short-term populist fixes.
He pointed to growing optimism in chamber member surveys and other key economic indicators but criticised the Coalition’s Help to Buy scheme for prospective home owners as risking a housing sector ‘bubble’ while claiming Labour’s proposed cap on energy prices would simply stall investment in the sector.
Dr Marshall said: “There is a long way to go to get this economy firing on all cylinders and what we need is ‘long-termism’ and clear thinking. It’s not about short term mortgage or energy policies, it’s about us as a business community going out and telling politicians to think long-term. We should evangelise about long-term business optimism.”
The conference, at the Basingstoke Country Hotel, also featured presentations from entrepreneurs Judith Moreton, owner of aviation firm Little Blue Private Jets, and Carl Churchill, Managing Director of NetPay Group, the online payment service provider.
Both speakers highlighted the importance of differentiating a business proposition in the market and being clear about the potential for growth.
Mr Churchill said NetPay had just celebrated its first birthday and was already on track to process £1 billion of payments on behalf of customers within the next 12 months. “Never enter a market unless you are prepared to change it,” he advised the audience. “Find the differentiating key, that sweet spot in the market. If it’s not new, take something established and do it better than anyone else.”
Topics discussed by an expert panel at the conference included skills, investment, the challenges facing exporters, public and private sector procurement practices, the viability of freezing business rates and the need for greater fairness in supplier payments.
As well as Dr Marshall, panel members were Marc Long, partner at law firm and event sponsors Clarke Willmott, Lizz Clarke, Managing Director of Fareham-based marketing company LCM, and Sarah Brooks, co-founder of The Yes Yes Company, a Petersfield firm that supplies intimate organic lubricants worldwide.
Addressing his last annual conference before retirement, Hampshire Chamber Chief Executive Jimmy Chestnutt gave what he described as a ‘state of the chamber’ address. As well as growing membership and developing member services, he said Hampshire Chamber was now the business partner for the Solent and Enterprise M3 Local Enterprise Partnerships who will deliver the government’s Regional Growth Fund.
He said the chamber had also been busy supporting exporters and he pointed to recent agreements signed with overseas chambers including in Spain and Romania which he said would provide trading opportunities for Hampshire businesses.
Mr Chestnutt said members could look forward to “a promising year ahead” in which the chamber would continue to engage with government and increasingly partner with other organisations to help “create jobs, new businesses and wealth”.
As well as the presentations and expert panel, Talking Business included an exhibition and networking opportunities. The compere for the day was Geoff French, Chairman of the Enterprise M3 LEP.