It’s vital that Wales doesn’t lose out as a result of Brexit and that we carry on having access to the single market in Europe, according to a leading figure in the Welsh Government.
Professor Mark Drakeford, Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government, says the same amount of money must continue to come into Wales after Britain’s departure from the European Union.
That was the key message when he spoke to 120 members of Wrexham Business Professionals (WBP) at the town’s Ramada Plaza hotel.
The group is made up of successful businesses and highly skilled professional firms of solicitors, accountants and other business professionals working together to raise the profile of enterprise and expertise that exists in the region and beyond.
The topic for discussion at their latest meeting was Powering Regional Prosperity – Taxing Times.
Prof Drakeford was one of three guest speakers who addressed the theme along with food entrepreneur Phil Brown and Rachel Clacher, co-founder of Wrexham-based telephone answering giant Moneypenny.
The Cabinet Secretary said he had been representing the Welsh Government on Brexit matters, adding: “Since the referendum to leave the EU, we have been working to protect and promote the interests of Wales. We have published our White Paper Securing Wales’ Future – a comprehensive, credible plan for the future as the UK prepares to leave the European Union.
“The Welsh Government has called on the UK Government to make good on promises made during the referendum campaign that Wales will not lose a penny in funding as a result of the UK leaving the EU. This remains one of our priorities – Wales should not be worse off when it leaves the EU and we will hold the UK Government to account on this.”
He added: “In the negotiations our top priority is to have full and unfettered access to the single market. We don’t want tariffs getting in the way of our most important markets. That will be to the disadvantage of the people of Wales as two-thirds of our exports are to the EU.
“We also need to be pragmatic when finding a solution to the issue of migration after Brexit. A lot of businesses across key sectors recruit people from the EU to work in Wales and we will continue to need migration from EU countries to help sustain our private sector economy and public services.”
“In leaving the EU, we also want to see all protections and standards which benefit our citizens – and the wellbeing of society as a whole – are not eroded and are transferred directly into UK law.”
Prof Drakeford also outlined how the Welsh Government is preparing for tax devolution. “In just over a year, stamp duty land tax and landfill tax will be devolved to Wales and we will introduce the first Welsh taxes in almost 800 years.
“This is an historic milestone in Wales’ devolution journey as we become responsible for raising our own money to spend on public services. The next step will be Welsh rates of income tax, which we are committed to introducing in April 2019.
“These taxes bring additional responsibility for the Welsh Government and the National Assembly – to those who pay taxes and those who depend on the public services which are funded by them.
“As we develop Welsh taxes we are very keen to work with professional groups to grow our capacity and make sure we design them in a way that works for Wales, its people and its businesses.”
In a question and answer session after the event, Prof Drakeford was asked about government assistance for firms affected by the Valuation Office Agency’s revaluation of business rates.
He said the government was committed to supporting businesses by providing an annual £100m small business rates relief scheme and two bespoke schemes to help businesses affected by the revaluation – a £10m transitional relief scheme and £10m of support for high street retailers in 2017-18.
Later, he met with small numbers of WBP members to discuss issues they raised with him.
Another guest speaker was Phil Brown, who was at the same school as Prince Charles and went on to found the Philpotts sandwich empire which he sold in 2006. Phil Brown later moved on to other successful business ventures and currently owns the famous Sea Shanty Café in Trearddur Bay, Anglesey.
The third speaker of the morning, Rachel Clacher, described how she and her brother, Ed Reeves, started Moneypenny in 1999 after identifying a need for a telephone answering service which provided added value for its customers.
Recently taking number four spot in the Sunday Times list of the 100 best companies to work for, it now has over 500 staff at its new purpose-built Wrexham headquarters and handles around 10 million calls a day on behalf of about 10,000 customers, from small firms to large multi-nationals.
Rachel said: “Being in Wrexham has been a huge bonus for us. We are a unique employer and we have managed to find, retain and grow an amazing group of capable, work-hungry and community-minded people who do a fabulous job for ourselves and our clients.
“We hold some simple concepts close to our hearts and one of these is that you should treat people as you would want to be treated yourself.
“From our early days we said we wanted to be the best in the world at what we do and we continue to push the envelope.”
WBP chair Gill Kreft thanked all the speakers and said: “Our group goes from strength to strength across North Wales and the North West of England and our theme of Powering Regional Prosperity is still as strong as it was when we launched it in 2015.
“Business is increasingly generated at and outside our regular meetings.”