Judy Terry is a marketing professional and a former local councillor in Suffolk.
Steve Britt set up his Anchor Storage in Suffolk 32 years ago. Providing storage, warehousing, and distribution services, for a broad range of products, including foodstuffs, Anchor manages the entire logistics chain from arrival at UK ports, including Felixstowe, across the UK and Europe. Handling complex documentation, to ensure full compliance, with services tailored to individual customer needs.
A stalwart of local and professional communities, Britt has just completed his year as Master of the Worshipful Company of Carmen, based in the City of London; he is passionate about widening knowledge of the employment opportunities in the logistics sector and related industries. As a non-executive director of Suffolk’s Chamber of Commerce, he is also a vocal supporter of the Eastern region, but often frustrated by a lack of infrastructure investment, and poor skills development hampering growth.
“Getting into schools to encourage young people to explore the opportunities is an uphill struggle. Teachers favouring formal qualifications can belittle what we do, yet it requires bright people, with technological know-how and a willingness to work hard with us to develop ever more complex efficiencies. And it is well paid.”
Local authorities offer very little support, or understanding, of the huge potential in the region; “there is a lack of dynamism, despite attempts by business to communicate and encourage a proactive approach,” Britt explains. “So, we always question whether we should be looking harder at ourselves; are we putting the right questions to officials?”
Throughout his career in Suffolk, “only once did I have any advice, and that was 20 years ago; after four sessions, I was told to buy a colour printer!”
Britt regrets that proposals for a regional authority, with a Mayor, failed:
“I favour dynamic localism, not Nimby localism. It would have been more aspirational and responsive, whilst saving millions of pounds annually to invest in services and economic development.
“At present, nothing is joined up, with each council doing its own thing, without proper consultation with business groups to capitalise on their knowledge and ideas, being ambitious and maximising value for money. They seem largely stuck in a timewarp, failing to acknowledge the extraordinary talent we have, setting up, and expanding a range of high quality businesses, from construction and brewing, to agriculture, the Arts and renewable energy. In so many sectors, the East are pioneers.”
West Suffolk District Council, however, appears to be an exception: “they are taking the initiative to attract inward investment, liaising with leading organisations to create a modern powerhouse for the region, whilst others appear more interested in bickering about a council’s name change, because people can’t pronounce ‘Babergh’, without even considering how much that would cost.” Instead, he suggests, “they should merge with Mid Suffolk to form a single authority, although the local electorate voted against a merger a few years ago, leading to shared staff and higher costs, including significant wage rises.”
He wants to see a greater focus on cutting business taxes, and ensuring that regulations are applied lightly, by trained individuals with the correct knowledge.
But, reforming business rates must be a key priority, “it costs me five or six per cent of annual turnover, restricting further investment. We’ve been pushing the Treasury for changes for years, offering detailed evidence of their impact, but as soon as we think we are making progress, the minister moves on, and we have to start all over again!”
Brexit is another concern:
“When I started my business, I could see how the EU interfered, raising revenue with tariffs, quotas and what I can only call protectionism, making products more expensive for British residents. Why is there a 14% tariff on bikes, when they are not made anywhere in Europe? 80 per cent of import duties go to Europe!
“I have always believed leaving is the right thing to do, but it should have been sorted a lot quicker, getting into transition a long time ago. We must have a deal; uncertainty and dithering over three and a half years, and our dysfunctional Parliament, means I’ve started to lose customers, with two major companies reluctantly setting up facilities in the EU to simplify goods management for parts of their business directly serving Europe.”
Suffolk, and the East in general, is notorious for its neglected infrastructure – another of Britt’s targets, when Chairing the local Transport Infrastructure Board.
Bringing local authorities, the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (NALEP) and business organisations together, lobbying government has already brought some success, with a fleet of new trains for faster connections to London, and improvements to the A14 Cambridge/Huntingdon route, “but we had to stop a toll being imposed!” Highways England is also promising further improvements to the A14, creating an Expressway, with better junctions and no agricultural vehicles to slow traffic. A new northern bypass for Ipswich is also being debated, although improvements to the A12 to Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth were dismissed.
Britt admits that business confidence has suffered in the last couple of years, but he believes it is in the EU’s interests as much as in the UK’s to see a Brexit deal agreed, allowing all parties to move on, exploring exciting new international trade deals. And he is determined to continue playing his part in securing a stronger regional (and national) economy.