Business and banking leaders offered commitments over their continued presence in the UK after Brexit as new figures revealed weak confidence in the prospects for economic growth in 2017 and a widening trade gap.
Just 39% of UK firms surveyed by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) said they experienced growth following June’s referendum, the lowest figure since 2012.
Of the 1,118 UK business managers surveyed, 65% are now pessimistic about the UK’s economic prospects over the next 12-18 months, and 49% expect Brexit will have a negative impact on growth over the next three to five years.
The Office of National Statistics also published figures showing a 2.6% drop in exports between July and September, despite a fall in the pound making UK goods and services more attractive to overseas markets.
Amid uncertainty over the UK’s economic prospects, Google executive Matt Brittin and Barclays chairman John McFarlane insisted that the UK’s expertise in technology and financial services meant businesses would stay after the country left the EU.
Mr Brittin, who leads Google’s business and operations in Europe, said there was “great talent here in the UK”.
He said: “We announced an intention to create 3,000 more jobs here in a big new investment in our facilities here, but that’s only because the UK is so good at the internet that we can support companies here in that growth agenda.”
The comments came as 35% of bosses told the CMI they “lack confidence in current UK leadership and management’s ability to capitalise on post-Brexit opportunities”.
Its survey said three-quarters of those polled said skill investment would be even more important after the UK left the EU, though 20% said they did not receive the training and development needed to “perform their job effectively” this year. However, only 25% were pessimistic about prospects for their own businesses.
Ann Francke, chief executive of the Chartered Management Institute, said: “In this climate of heightened political uncertainty and economic turbulence, the time is now to position Britain as a global leader in responsible capitalism, targeting essential issues like workplace ethics, inclusivity and executive pay to restore trust and transparency and improve productivity.”
She added: “There are uncertain times ahead, but I agree with many of those surveyed that there are opportunities for forward-thinking UK businesses.”
Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh MP, the SNP’s International Trade spokesperson, said: “UK exports were already declining under this Tory government before the threat of a hard Brexit - falling from £517 billion in 2013, to £511 billion in 2014, and down again to £509 billion in 2015.
“The UK government must take the earliest opportunity in the New Year to outline what action it will now take to reverse this decline – not least if it is to have the remotest hope of meeting its increasingly distant target of doubling exports to £1 trillion by 2020.”