I watched with interest as a new group promoting the benefits of Britain staying within the European Union (EU) was launched last week. Britain Stronger in Europe, headed up by former Marks & Spencer CEO Stuart Rose, aims to promote the economic, political and social advantages of staying within the EU bloc.
Britain's membership within the EU has been a contentious issue in the past couple of years, with many fearing that increased unity threatens our national sovereignty. Added on to this is the view of some businesses, especially SMEs, that retaining our membership is detrimental to the UK. According to research from the Federation of Small Businesses, 41% of SMEs want to leave the 28-member community because of excessive red tape and bureaucracy.
Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to renegotiate the UK's standing within the Union, pledging to hold a referendum before 2017 on the status of Britain's membership, with the expectation growing that it could be held next year.
Britain Stronger in Europe claims that EU membership is good for business and society as it grants us a stronger economy. And according to our recent research, UK CIMA members agree.
Of the 1,100 respondents to our recent research, 76% think that the UK should stay in the EU, with 80% believing it is good for British business. A mere 7% believe that leaving would have a positive impact on business.
And while reasons cited for leaving the EU were not business-based, the majority of our members (63%) would like to see us remain in the EU even if reforms can't be achieved.
This shows just how vital our members feel EU membership is to the long-term success of their businesses. It is made all the more striking considering that only 33% of our members report having a significant proportion of business involving other EU states and the vast majority - 86% - do not receive any EU funding. Support for the EU was consistent across all sizes of organsiation and level of interaction with the bloc.
The research also showed that demand for business-specific reforms was low, with only 5% wanting changes to corporate regulations, 12% wanting the UK to push for tax harmonisation, and 12% wanting changes to employment regulations. However, support for adopting the single currency was extremely low with only 4% of survey respondents indicating they would like the UK to join.
It is not a stretch to see why our members feel this way. That's because for them this is not about political allegiances - how can it be when no mainstream party is united on their membership stance?
No, for our members this is purely a simple question of business success - and the statistics speak for themselves. We import more from the EU than non-EU countries - £19.1bn vs £16.1bn in July, for instance. In fact, 10% of our exports each year go to Germany alone. It is no surprise then that in a recent survey of 2,600 chief executives, nearly two thirds said that a 'Brexit' would have a negative effect on the British economy.
But it's not just UK businesses that fear Britain leaving the Union. For example, Britain pulling out of membership would result in substantial damage to Italian trade. That's because since 2014, Italian exports to the UK have grown by 9.4%, reaching a total value of €9 billion. And further afield, Britain now has a trade surplus with South Korea for the first time in 20 years, thanks to the EU-South Korea Free Trade Agreement, the first arrangement of its kind to lift trade barriers between the EU and an Asian country. British exports to South Korea totaled £6.7 billion in 2013, a 118% increase since before the agreement in 2011.
And what's more, 46% of foreign direct investment in 2015 has been from other EU member states.
So while parties squabble among themselves, there remains one constant. Management accountants across the political spectrum are united in the opinion that remaining in the EU is vital to the long-term success of our businesses, economy and society.