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SMEs need clarity as Brexit deadline approaches

Ali Akbor addresses Unity's 2018 Annual General Meeting

The chief executive of a Leeds-based housing association has urged Westminster politicians to find a Brexit compromise.

Ali Akbor, who has led Unity Homes and Enterprise for two decades, said it was vital that MPs worked to avoid local communities including SMEs being thrown into chaos as the countdown to Britain’s scheduled departure from the European Union gathers pace.

“Unity Enterprise, our not for profit subsidiary, hosts more than 80 businesses across three locations,” he said.

“The ability of these companies, many of them start-ups, to expand and create new employment opportunities is being restricted because of diminishing confidence amongst entrepreneurs. Existing jobs could also be at risk. These enterprises need greater clarity to enable them to plan for the longer term and make investment decisions.”

Mr Akbor also warned that fears over a no-deal Brexit or second referendum were causing deepening anxiety amongst Unity tenants.

“Unity is not a political organisation and has no desire to become one,” Mr Akbor said.

“But our staff are close to the people we serve and it is clear that the decisions politicians make in the coming weeks will impact on tenants’ lives for years to come.

“I am particularly concerned about the aggressive tone and negative rhetoric we have heard from both sides of the Brexit debate, and the dangers this poses to community cohesion. That is why I am wary of the damage a second referendum campaign may inflict.

“Our tenants wish to live in a society at ease with itself, and side by side with people respectful of each other’s differences. This is not helped by politicians who advocate a ‘my way or no way’ doctrine and who seek to denigrate those who hold a different viewpoint to their own.”

The Unity chief executive – also secretary/treasurer of BME National, a collective of over 60 BME housing associations – said it was “essential” that a Brexit compromise was reached in Westminster.

“The wheels of government have ground to a halt,” Mr Akbor said. “That’s not a criticism, it’s a fact. The Integrated Communities Strategy Green Paper and the Social Housing Green Paper are gathering dust in Whitehall.

“If the national housing crisis is to be eased, we need to be moving to the next stage on both.”