As I discussed in my last blog, many who voted leave did so because they had no real idea what the EU does and had been fed a negative diatriabe of excuses and lies from several directions in the last few years before the referendum. For millions of us, however, the awareness of the benefit of the EU was there, maybe in the background, maybe taken for granted, but it was there and the x by remain was every bit as much an instinctive emotional response to the question as is claimed leavers had, because we had had some direct experience in some shape or form with the EU.
For me there were many clear benefits I could see but Ι want to share a small and simple story which illustrates how just looking at EU membership fees is an oversimplistic way of counting the cost/benefit of the EU.
In 2000 we had moved to a rural area of Wales and set up a little micro business working from what was a larder in the house, to all intents and purposes it was a cupboard under the stairs. We had very little cash available. We had only the income we could generate for ourselves from our own efforts in our mail order business. We claimed no benefits and we relied on nobody but ourselves. We took no holidays except bank holidays. We had dial up internet which was very slow. As we went on making a reasonable living we grasped the nettle of creating our own website but we could feel the limits of our internet access with regards to efficiency over the next couple of years, we were being held back.
The IT revolution was in full flow throughout the world of business. It was to change every single part of the way business was run. It was also to open up massive opportunities for SMEs and we wanted to tap into that. But there was already an inequality coming from the poor and non existent service available in rural areas. Internet infrastructure was being built and improved piecemeal by the private sector, understandably priority was being given to the big cities and the areas where population was higher and people could afford the service. In practice Wales was a million miles behind England in providing an adequate service fit for the industrial world of the new millennium.
We did our research and discovered that we could put in a satellite internet service which would give us, for the time, good access to speedy internet. This would help us enormously but we had no spare money to invest in this. So we applied for a tiny grant which had become available from the WDA as was. This fund was available because Wales received funding from the EU in addition to funding from Westminster which could then be used in projects for the benefit of business development. This grant of a few hundred pounds may sound like peanuts but to us it was a really big deal and gave us the ability to keep up with our competitors and access new technology. Our customers were based all over the UK and we were really only able to do this because of technology.
This article from 2002 discusses the general problem of internet infrastructure and the bigger project that followed over the next few years to try and bring Wales up to date. Though it took some years the money was made available thanks to the EU and to Westminster. Would Westminster alone have ever provided enough money for Wales to do this? I don’t believe it would have done, if they really cared about business in the regions, this would have been a top national priority.
This was literally the only grant we have ever applied for in our business lives. The timing was perfect and it was just enough to give us a step up and be able to compete effectively. We could reach our marketplaces more efficiently and it opened up some new opportunities. We could create and manage a better website. All tasks on data analysis and accounts became a little bit easier and quicker and we had much better quality information we could base business decisions on. We grew our business and took some offices in the neighbouring town and started hiring people.
So one little grant in a scheme available partly thanks to EU funds
Led to renting of an office which represents spending in the local business community
Led to Business rates being paid on the office which benefits the local community
Led to employment of some local people
Led to PAYE and NI going to the exchequer
Led to income earned by staff to be spent in the local economy
Led to VAT collected in increased sales made throughout the UK
Led to income from us personally and our business being spent in the local economy
Led to access to cash to invest further in the business which led to growth which led to more employment
Led to corporation tax paid on profits of the company
Led to increased expenditure with our suppliers, all of who’s communities then benefit from all the points above.
Incidentally later, many years later, we grew sufficiently to tap into overseas sales and diversify thanks to the single market at a time when our domestic market was stagnant and unprofitable due to the effect of austerity on our customers. This saved our jobs and our company and our growth and our tax contributions.
My daily 12 pence or whatever it costs me for EU membership is absolutely nothing compared to what I and my community gained from a tiny door that was opened to us.
This calculator lets you figure out the cost of EU membership to you then if you can’t think of personal benefits you have enjoyed, have a look at this app, it will jog your memory. Then share these with everyone who asks with scorn “what has the EU ever done for me”.
Most importantly get yourselves and EVERYBODY you know down to that polling station on Thursday and vote for party which has a positive commitment to our future where we belong as members of the biggest most successful partnership of nations in the world. If the EU did not exist we would want to invent it.