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EU Referendum: Should we stay or should we go?

What impact could the vote have for UK-based pro audio?

The imminent EU membership referendum in the UK has evoked strong emotions on both sides of the debate. David Davies finds out what the specific implications of ‘Brexit’ could be for UK-based pro audio.

Some have suggested that it’s almost impossible to ‘take the temperature’ of the UK’s EU referendum; others have repeatedly claimed that in the face of uncertainty about what happen after a possible ‘Brexit’, there is no way that sufficient numbers will vote to come out. But at the time of writing (8 May), a Financial Times website ‘poll of polls’ suggests that the referendum – which is due to take place on Thursday 23 June – could be rather closer than many expect, with 46 per cent expected to vote to stay against 43 per cent opting to depart.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, referendum-related polls have been met with a fair degree of scepticism in light of the fact that almost everyone predicted the outcome of the 2015 UK General Election incorrectly. In addition, the incoherence present at times on both sides of the debate has made this a particularly hard one to call.

By a slim majority the pro-audio industry figures who PSNEurope canvassed for opinion were in favour of remaining within the EU – in general, the feeling being that trade with EU member states could be hindered, whilst impact on future legislation and regulations would undoubtedly be dramatically reduced. But there are also plenty who feel that the well-documented inefficiencies and ‘democratic deficit’ of some EU institutions should override all other concerns.

The ‘In’ crowd

The number of jobs directly linked to business with the EU has been among the primary arguments made against Brexit. Estimates do vary, but according to recent HM Treasury analysis it is possible to connect 3,250,000 jobs to EU exports. The case around the extent to which we benefit from rebates versus the amount we contribute to the EU budget is more vexed given the quite remarkable variety in the estimated amounts that are cited. However, for employees, there is no doubt that the EU has delivered significant improvements in terms of holiday pay, maternity leave and rights’ protection.

But in truth it is uncertainty that dominates the thoughts of many of those who wish to remain: uncertainty about the duration of negotiations required to arrange post-EU trade agreements (estimates rang from less than one year to as many as eight); and uncertainty regarding the future perception of UK-headquartered businesses, both in terms of manufacturing and touring/installation service provision.

“We should stay,” declares Andy Dockerty, managing director of Liverpool-based rental, sales and installation company Adlib Audio. “The European touring market for us would suffer massively if we’re not a part of the EU because a lot of the European companies will be the go-to companies, rather than the British ones, for the European/American touring market.” The motivation comes from “protecting your business and what you believe will affect you most, and that’s what I believe will affect us most.”

RH Consulting co-founder Roland Hemming is also firmly part of the ‘in’ crowd and believes that the vote will actually be more emphatically in favour of remaining than many suspect. “There is actually agreement on both sides that whatever the long-term benefits [of leaving may or may not be], there would be a short-term shock involved – and frankly, I would rather not have a short-term shock,” he says. “Plus, I don’t think the EU is more broken than any other level of government…”

But understandably given his involvement in their writing and revision, Hemming’s concerns tend to be focused around the more tangible area of industry-relevant standards such as EN54 parts 16 and 24. Whilst the UK would continue to have input to the (currently ongoing) revision of these standards whether or not we vote to remain, our influence over fresh developments in the future would be dramatically reduced.

“We’d continue with standards work through our membership of CEN [the European Committee of Standardisation], which extends beyond EU member states, but as we would not be members of the EU we would have no influence regarding any overriding laws that lead us to have those standards in the first place. In committee, I look across the room at my Norwegian colleague who still has to implement all this, but has no say in the legislation.” says Hemming, pointing to the Construction Products legislation that led to the initiation of the aforementioned EN54 standards.

Over and out

Trepidation about future standards compliance cuts little ice with Chris Scott, MD of Nottinghamshire-based pro-audio and premium integrated systems developer Inspired Audio, which recently marked its fifth birthday. “The same could be said of standards that we need to comply with in the Americas, for example, and we wouldn’t have any influence over those,” he suggests. “The fact is that we are living in a globalised world in which companies are doing more and more business with each other – yet the EU is going in the opposite direction to that with greater centralisation. It makes sense to me to be looking to do more business outside of the EU.”

That has certainly proven to be the case for Inspired Audio, which continues to see its activity levels rise in the Middle East and South America, in particular. It might therefore be argued that the company would have little to lose from Brexit, but Scott is by no means the only one to single out the “undemocratic nature of some of the institutions, as well as the huge inefficiencies… If the EU was a company it would have gone out of business within a fortnight! And I think it’s worth giving some thought to what would happen to the UK if there was another economic crisis – Greece, Spain and Portugal remain very vulnerable.”

Given the UK’s status as the world’s fifth largest economy (source: IMF, 2015), and the prominent position of its banking community in the global financial services sector, it seems unlikely that the country would not be involved in any future major bail-out whether or not it opts for Brexit. But that issue aside, it is evident that the UK’s pro-audio companies will need to weigh up their own present – and likely future – sources of work and opportunities very carefully as they make their way to the polling booth.

In or out? Pictures (top to bottom) Andy Dockerty, Roland Hemming, Chris Scott