FIRMS should not panic over a single negative growth figure, but the Government must stop sending out mixed messages to the corporate community, Cambridgeshire business leaders say.
John Bridge OBE, chief Executive of Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce, said: “The negative fall is clearly disappointing but these figures are only an estimate and it’s important not to get carried away.
“However they do reinforce our message to the government that the recovery is fragile and risks of serious setbacks remain.”
But he warned: “Regardless of how the figures may be revised at a later date, if we look at the bigger picture it is apparent that businesses still aren’t getting the support they need from the Government to create growth.
“Regrettably, some of the policies being implemented by the Government are sending mixed messages and it’s not instilling the confidence needed by business.”
Mr Bridge called for a business department at Whitehall that truly understood the needs of business.
“Plans for extended paternity leave have left SMEs up and down the country feeling daunted by the prospect of yet another set of employment rules and legislation to get their heads around, and it certainly won’t make employment and recruitment any easier.
“At the same time the Pensions Bill is currently paving the way for mandatory employer contributions to employees’ pensions, while the abolition of the default retirement age from April will impede the ability of business owners to manage their operations effectively.
“Meanwhile, local enterprise partnerships have been given the green light, supposedly putting business at the heart of leading growth and creating new jobs, but they’re not being given any funding to do it.
“The Localism Bill is at risk of becoming a vehicle for anti-growth campaigners to block growth and hinder the creation of much-needed jobs.
“And furthermore indications are that regional growth funds are not going to be made available to areas such as the East of England – one of only three regions in the UK that makes a net contribution to the Exchequer,” he complained.
“The Eastern region has a genuine capacity to contribute to the economic recovery but the Government is jeopardising that by not investing in the key drivers of the economy.
“Throughout the downturn the Eastern region has demonstrated a resilient and robust economy, putting our region in the best possible position to continue to make a valuable contribution to its recovery. But all of our efforts would be put at risk by a lack of regional growth funding.”
Mr Bridge said uncertainty over interest rates was also having an adverse effect on business confidence, and the Monetary Policy Committee should wait until the economy had further absorbed the impact of the austerity plan before imposing any interest rate increases.
The frustrated business leader added: “The introduction of the English Baccalaureate is yet another example – the Government claims that to support the need for vocational training that provides young people with the skills needed by businesses, but then penalises schools when students’ achievements are not in traditional academic subjects.
“The Government is showing exceptional skills for saying one thing and then doing the other. A business department that truly understands the needs of business is a necessity if businesses are to meet their end of the bargain and really drive economic growth from the ground.”