Posted: Wed 18th May 2016
Gabe Winn, director of stakeholder relations and senior business advisor at Britain Stronger in Europe, puts forward the argument for why small businesses owners should vote for the UK to stay in the EU in the referendum on 23 June.
You can see the argument from Vote Leave for why entrepreneurs should vote 'leave' here.
To hear arguments on both sides of the debate and share your views, come to the small business EU debate in London on 23 May. Book your free place here.
If you can't make it to London, the event will be live streamed during a small business meet-up in Birmingham. Book a place here.
I'm not a political campaigner; in fact, this is my first campaign. And I joined because the decision we make on 23 June will be one of the most important democratic decisions I'll see in my lifetime.
In a General Election, if we figure out we made a mistake by voting in the wrong people, we can change things five years later. But this is different; if we vote to leave the European Union on 23 June, that decision is made for good.
Don't get me wrong - I'm not a starry-eyed Europhile; I believe that the EU isn't perfect and that it needs reform. But I also believe that we're better off inside it, influencing change, working with our closest neighbours, and helping make the decisions that will continue to affect us even if we do leave.
And, in my mind, when we talk about remaining or leaving, we need to talk about risk. That's not 'Project Fear', it's about saying: 'here's a situation we know and understand, and we're been asked to move to one that we don't understand and that no one can clarify for us, so we need to be clear about the risks of doing that.'
I've spent the last 15 years working in businesses of various sizes, from a company that makes labels for shampoo bottles in Leeds to the UK's largest energy supplier in London. And a vital thing that business has taught me is to make decisions in a rational, fact-based, un-emotional way.
So, that's how I made my mind up about the referendum; by looking at the benefits and weighing them up against the costs and the risks, and that's why I'm now part of the team fighting to keep us in the EU.
The business benefits of remaining are huge; full access to the single market of 500m people means British businesses can sell to more people with the same rules as we have here, and they can grow more quickly. I say 'full access' because the 'full' bit is particularly important. Lots of countries have 'access' to trade with the single market, but they have to pay import tariffs and they face regulatory barriers when they do; we don't have those, and that means that British companies can trade with companies and consumers in Berlin or Brussels in exactly the same way as if they were in Birmingham or Bristol.
But that only matters if you're a company that exports, right? Wrong. Over 200,000 British businesses trade with the EU, and that doesn't take into account their supply chains; so hundreds of thousands of small and medium sized British businesses are reliant on other businesses that do export to the EU. If those businesses no longer make the same margins, and if their access to credit is reduced, then it has a knock-on impact on the companies that supply them.
We also know from a whole range of independent analysts and economists that leaving the EU would have a negative impact on the British economy, possibly leading to recession. Less growth means less money in people's pockets to spend on British goods and services, from pubs and hairdressers to the weekly shop. That's not good for any business.
One of the things I hear a lot in this debate is that leaving the EU will free small businesses of red tape - 'all these regulations that are stopping us from growing as quickly as we could'. But there are two important points on regulation that people who want us to leave the EU don't mention.
The first is that, like it or loathe it, regulation is here to stay, and making sure that the regulations we adhere to in this country don't put us at a competitive disadvantage will always be paramount. So, the fact that regulations are the same across 28 EU member states has to be a good thing. No company in the other 27 countries has a better deal than us, and we have a seat at the table as members of the EU to shape and form that regulation. If we leave, we'll still need to comply with almost all of the regulations that the EU creates, but we won't have any say over what any of them look like.
The second is that the UK is the 5th least regulated country in the world; we're the 2nd least regulated in the developed world; and the first least regulated is the Netherlands, which is also a member of the EU. So the idea that it's the EU that is 'strangling us with red tape' just isn't true.
But the case to remain isn't just about risk; we get huge benefits by being part of the EU as well. From 2014-2020 the UK will receive over Â£8.6bn from the European Social Fund (ESF) and the European Regional Development Fund, if we remain part of the EU. ESF funding has paid for training for managers and employees in small businesses, and the creation of apprenticeships across the UK.
I've said that the EU isn't perfect, and it's not. I'm sure most people reading this would be able to come up with examples to prove my point. But, with a decision that some of the most credible expert voices in the world have said will have far-reaching consequences, I don't think we should make 'perfect' the enemy of 'good'.
So let's make it better; let's make it work better for small businesses, for medium business and for large businesses too.
But we can only do that if we vote to remain in the EU and keep our seat at one of the most prized tables in the world, and that's why I hope you'll join me in voting to 'Remain' on 23 June.
To hear arguments on both sides of the debate and share your views come to the small business EU debate in London on 23 May at 6pm. Find out more here and book your free place below.
If you can't make it to London, the event will be live streamed during a small business meet-up in Birmingham on 23 May at 6pm. Find out more here and book free a place below.