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24 June, 2016 - 11:37 By Tony Quested

Cambridge leads fightback from Brexit carnage

brexit, cambridge

Entrepreneurial Cambridge brandished a beacon of enlightenment amid the fog and gloom of Brexit – vowing to redouble its efforts to scale internationally in defiance of the UK’s decision to quit the EU.

As sterling and stocks hurtled through the floor and global markets turned into a train crash, Cambridge’s greatest technology business, ARM Holdings, saw its London share price RISE and vowed to fight for the right to recruit immigrant talent.

That torch was picked up by Sherry Coutu, head of The Scale-up Institute and Founders4Schools, as well as kindred entrepreneurs and academics committed to an unswerving global growth agenda.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that Cambridge University and the city’s science & technology cluster led an overwhelming ‘Remain’ vote locally.
And despite carnage on the markets this morning, leading figures – entrepreneurs, academic institutions and companies – were united in their view that cool heads could maintain Cambridge’s reputational capital on the world stage.

A spokesperson for chip designer ARM, which is massively increasing its Cambridge and worldwide headcount, told Business Weekly: “Brexit will not have a significant impact on our business as almost all of our earnings come from outside the EU zone.

“But we will watch the negotiations closely, particularly on the subject of visas, as we employ approximately 200 non-UK EU citizens at our Cambridge headquarters.

“We may lose some EU research grants but these have represented less than one per cent of our R & D spend in the last three years and we hope to see this picked by the UK Government.”

ARM’s share price at the height of the early chaos was up 9p (0.88 per cent) to 1,028.00p, leaving the company’s market cap at just under £22 billion. Life science company AstraZeneca, which is relocating its corporate HQ to Cambridge and building R & D and genomics centres in the city with over 2,500 jobs, also defied the odds as its share price increased 35p to £3,934.00p.

In the business angel corner, Sherry Coutu said: “I still believe that our country is better off within the European Union but there is no doubt that the UK will continue to be the successful country it is today.

“Cambridge and our country will continue to be the best place in the world to start up and scale up businesses. We will continue to look outwards and trade and engage with the entire world – including the European Union.

“In terms of opportunities going forward, let’s use the global connections of Cambridge alumni to connect our businesses with the rest of the world and recruit talent for Cambridge-based businesses to draw from.

“Regarding potential threats, access to talent remains the biggest barrier to scale-up companies. I hope we can get a scale-up visa so that we can get talented people to help us expand our Cambridge companies globally. Let’s work harder than ever at the school for scaleups in Cambridge to help the leaders of these businesses.”

University vice-chancellor Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz echoed the ‘roll up our sleeves’ stance. He said: “We note this result with disappointment. My position on this issue is well known, but 52 per cent of voters in the referendum disagreed.

“We will work with our partners in business, research and academia, as well as our European partners and the Government, to understand the implications of this outcome.”

Marshall of Cambridge, the city’s largest industrial employer, was also in ‘onwards and upwards’ mode. A spokesperson said: “The vote to leave the EU will undoubtedly result in changes in the longer term but our company's history has been built on embracing and adapting to change.

“We look forward to supporting the Government as they lead us through an orderly transition to a new relationship with Europe and the rest of the world. The campaign is now over and the decision has been made; we look forward to the future and the opportunities it will bring.”

Cambridge has Europe’s largest life science cluster. While membership organisation One Nucleus declined to comment because it is politically agnostic, the BioIndustry Association (BIA) said there were challenges ahead.

CEO Steve Bates said: “This is not the outcome the BIA wanted but we accept the views of the UK people. The life sciences sector is a resilient community, unfazed by new challenges and staffed by great management teams used to working in a global environment.

“The fundamentals of UK bioscience remain strong. In terms of potential new therapies in the pipeline, the UK is by far the strongest in Europe. But several key issues for our sector are now in flux.

“Key questions about the regulation of medicine, access to the single market and talent, intellectual property and the precise nature of the future relationship of the UK with Europe are now upon us.

“This will require detailed and dispassionate thinking and the BIA will make its and its members’ expertise available to the Government and its key agencies in the coming weeks and months as we work through these complex issues.

“The BIA remains committed to making the UK the third global cluster for life sciences and we will work closely with government and relevant agencies to see how this ambition can be delivered in the new political context we now find ourselves in as a country.”

As sterling went up in flames, UKForex – a currency transfer provider – said some companies and investors were already exploiting market opportunities. 
Alex Edwards, head of the dealing desk at UKForex said: “The big moves today won’t just be restricted to the pound. Safe havens like the Swiss franc and Japanese yen are already strengthening as risk is being sold across the board.

“Overnight, UKForex has a seen a 400 per cent increase in customers making currency transfers, as Australian consumers have flocked to buy sterling at an exceptionally cheap rate.

“The plunge in the pound is certainly not good news for importers, particularly those that didn’t hedge against currency risk with a forward contract before the result came through. Those needing to transfer into yen and US dollars could be amongst the worst affected.

“However, this isn’t such bad news for exporters, who could stand to make serious gains from the pound’s performance. Many of them are busily locking in forward contracts at this morning’s rate.”

The construction industry urged the Government to protect its fragile skills base. Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders, said the Government must ensure that any new system of immigration provided the construction sector with enough skilled workers to build the homes and infrastructure projects so urgently required.

Berry said: “The UK construction industry has been heavily reliant on migrant workers from Europe for decades now – at present, 12 per cent of British-based construction workers are of non-UK origin.

“The majority of these workers are from EU countries such as Poland, Romania and Lithuania and they have helped the construction industry bounce back from the economic downturn when 400,000 skilled workers left our industry, most of whom did not return.

“It is now the Government’s responsibility to ensure that the free-flowing tap of migrant workers from Europe is not turned off. If Ministers want to meet their house building and infrastructure objectives, they have to ensure that the new system of immigration is responsive to the needs of industry.”

Never an organisation to let an economy-shattering financial crisis get in the way of a sales opportunity, pro-European airline Ryanair pledged to help Remain voters flee the UK.

Ryanair’s Robin Kiely said: “It’s a good job we’re better at running an airline than political campaigns. Britons are booking our £9.99 seats in record numbers in what will be the last big seat sale of its kind as they look to flee a country which will be run by Boris, Gove and Farage.”

• Reaction to Brexit from Fiona Hotston Moore, partner and tax specialist at Ensors chartered accountants, in our Financial section:

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