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'Behind those businesses are human faces': Residents discuss Brexit and Romford's high street with Havering council leader

PUBLISHED: 12:00 04 February 2019

Business owners met with Havering council leader, councillor Damian White and Romford MP Andrew Rosindell at a roundtable breakfast meeting organised by the Federation of Small Businesses on Friday, February 1. Photo: Ken Mears

Business owners met with Havering council leader, councillor Damian White and Romford MP Andrew Rosindell at a roundtable breakfast meeting organised by the Federation of Small Businesses on Friday, February 1. Photo: Ken Mears

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Business owners in the borough voiced their concerns on parking, bringing new life into the high street and Brexit at a roundtable discussion with Havering's council leader and Romford's MP.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) London organised the meeting for residents to discuss issues affecting business owners with Havering MPs and the leader of the council over breakfast on Friday, February 1.

Dagenham and Rainham MP Jon Cruddas and Hornchurch and Upminster MP Julia Lopez were unable to make the meeting as planned.

Matthew Jaffa, senior development officer at FSB, raised the issue of uncertainty surrounding Brexit.

He said: “Small businesses rely on certainty and unfortunately they are not getting that at the moment.

“Businesses have to be able to invest in staff and machinery and you can’t do that with uncertainty.”

Romford MP Andrew Rosindell described Brexit as an “adjustment” and “the best decision we have ever made”.

“I think our country’s strength is in building up free enterprise - particularly with Brexit.

“Only 6per cent of our businesses trade with Europe. Most businesses will barely be affected [by Brexit].

“All businesses will benefit from global trade. We need to start looking beyond March 29.”

Remi Okeshola, manager of Real Business Solutions in Romford said: “I hate it when a business is closing down or when a shop has been empty.

“Businesses are beginning to fall apart. While you [Mr Rosindell] may refer to Brexit as an adjustment - behind those businesses are human faces.

“I know businesses that are laying off staff because they can’t grow because of uncertainty.”

Mr Rosindell responded: “Uncertainty is entirely down to the failure of politicians. I said right from the start that after the referendum we should plan for no deal.

“What should have been a great historical day for our country, we have made it into a cliff edge - a disaster.”

The council’s proposed changes to parking charges also formed a large part of the discussion.

Havering is considering removing free car parking for the first 30minutes in Hornchurch, Upminster and Elm Park in a bid to save money as part of its latest budget proposals.

Craig Edwards, owner of Tea Island in Hornchurch said: “I think the changes to parking charges are driving people away.

“We will get more and more people driving out to Lakeside.”

Leader of the council, Cllr Damian White, responded: “We have an incredibly difficult decision to make to ensure our budget is solvent.

“We’re not benchmarking ourselves against London but against Brentwood, Essex and Epping.”

Alex Stone, a senior caseworker for Mrs Lopez, added: “There are a group of Hornchurch business owners who have set their own vision for what they want Hornchurch to become.

“I think it’s important to make the town centre a destination and I think that’s where our small businesses come in.”

Speaking about his vision for the high street Mr Rosindell added: “Havering is in a unique position. We’re not really London as we’re part Essex.

“One of my big passions is that Romford should be developed in the grain with its history.

“We should protect the incredible history we have got, rather than becoming just another housing estate borough in London.”

Neil Stubbings, director of regeneration at Havering Council, provided a summary of the council’s vision for the high street and support of small businesses.

He told the shop owners: “My vision is that you’re really involved in setting the vision of the borough.

“Extra wealth in the borough is what we’re trying to create.”

Janice Geoghegan-Breen from Garnet Consultancy, thanked the FSB for the support they have provided for businesses like hers and asked the room what more could be done to link businesses owners to FSB and council support services.

Mr Stubbings invited FSB and all of the attendees of the event to attend the council’s business expo at CEME in Rainham on March 20.

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