Positive Economic Outlook

Caroline Williams, Chief Executive, Norfolk Chamber of Commerce

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC)  latest economic forecast puts the UK in pole position amongst industrialised countries for growth in 2014 - a pretty significant feat, considering some of the dire warnings about the UKs relative performance just a year or two ago.

Yet their forecast also includes some important warnings, because the big structural problems we always hear about from businesses still aren't sorted. Training and skills, a topic discussed so many times here in Norfolk. Infrastructure, which continues to creak, with a key meeting on the NDR next week needing business support being particularly topical. And critically, access to finance for growing businesses. I for one don't believe that we can sustain business investment growth rates of 7-8% unless we see a revolution in this area over the next few years. We are certainly doing our part, by continuing our work with the BCC on a better Business Bank, a bond market for SMEs, more incentives for equity finance and by checking what businesses think about service from banks. That's why this week, together with the FSB and the Treasury, BCC has launched the Business Banking Insight website. As their comment shows, it is all about boosting customer service, transparency, trust and competition in a sector whose behaviour is critical to the future prospects of growing firms.

Similarly, we are also urging the Bank of England to keep official interest rates low for as long as possible - and then raise them only gradually. This will help support business investment, and ensure that the rug is not pulled out from the wider economy by an overly hasty or large rate rise when monetary policy does start to change. Our bet is that this will now take place early in 2015, but in a world of increased political uncertainty there are no guarantees. We will be putting this point direct to the Bank of England when we meet with them next week together with a number of Norfolk Chamber members.

Speaking of uncertainty, the official Scotland referendum campaign gets underway today. From now until 18th September, it will dominate the media and political discourse. We know what firms think about the referendum's impacts, but the people of Scotland will ultimately decide.

Between Scotland and the jockeying for the position of European Commission president in the wake of last week's elections, you could describe it as an interesting time

Please don't hesitate to drop me a line if the team can be of any assistance to our organisation on any topic cw@norfolkchamber.co.uk

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