Sheffield voters have been warned not to make a ‘short-term decision’ as the referendum on the country’s EU membership looms.
Richard Wright, director of the city’s Chamber of Commerce, urged businesses and residents to think carefully about the poll because of its implications for the local economy.
“Whichever way the vote goes, we are going to be stuck with it for a long while,” he said.
Major firms and Sheffield MPs have lined up in support of remaining in the European Union, and leaders of both city universities have stressed the important r ole played by international students.
However other leading political and business figures say Brexit is the only way to make the country’s economy stronger.
“In my opinion the way to vote should be based more on our opinion of where Europe might be in five to 10 years’ time,” said Mr Wright. “If we think it is sustainable and will grow, we probably need to stay with it. If not then we probably need to leave.”
The chamber itself is not taking a position, recognising that its members have differing views.
However, it has tried to help businesses make a better-informed decision.
Remain campaigners say millions of pounds worth of EU funding has been provided for regeneration projects, including 3 St Paul’s Place, the new Fox Valley retail park, revamps of Tudor Square and the Crucible theatre, and transport schemes.
However, Carl Chambers, regional chairman for Business for Britain in Yorkshire, backs Brexit as he believes it is the only way to make the country’s economy stronger.
He said: “The UK is the world’s fifth largest economy. If we vote to leave, we can leverage that position to build our economy further. We face a choice between regionalisation or globalisation, and as a strong economy we no longer stand to gain from the ‘fortress EU’ approach in the same way other, weaker economies do.”
Sir Patrick Duffy, former Sheffield Labour MP and President of the NATO Assembly, led the ‘Yes’ campaign to join the Common Market in 1971. However, next week he will vote ‘leave’ as he says the Eurozone is hovering on ‘the edge of crisis.’
He said: “In opting out of the EU we need not assume that our only alternatives are the Norwegian, Swiss or Canadian models. We would be free to negotiate a distinct British option; after Germany, we are the largest EU economy. With its crown jewels - the financial services of the city of London long coveted in Frankfurt and Paris - an independent Britain would be more attractive to global capital movements.”
Sheffield Hallam MP Nick Clegg - who backs staying in the EU - said the referendum was ‘far more important than a General Election’.
“If we leave, we will still have access to the single market but only if we abide by its rules - and we won’t have any control over them.
“The instant effect is other countries would want to follow and EU leaders would strike a tough deal with the UK to discourage them. They will do anything to keep the rest of the club intact.”
Richard Wright said the issue was still dividing the business community.
“My impression, after talking to people, is that larger businesses tend to favour remain, but when you get down to smaller businesses that changes. The reasons are things like red tape, and even within the business community immigration comes up as an issue,” he said.
Votes will be counted after polling stations close at 10pm next Thursday. There will be a single result for Sheffield, and a regional total, before the national outcome is known.
And Andrew Cook, chairman of engineering group William Cook Holdings, based off the Parkway, said a ‘giant leap back to the 1970s’ was in store, in the event of a vote to leave.
“Job losses will be considerable and an entire sector of our economy could ultimately perish,” he said.
As charities, the universities have not taken a definitive position. But speaking in a personal capacity, Prof Keith Burnett, vice chancellor of Sheffield University, previously said the ‘extraordinary importance of students and staff from across the whole world’ should be taken into account, while Chris Husbands, vice chancellor of Hallam University, said this week: “The likelihood is that Brexit would make life more difficult.”
Many buildings and new developments in Sheffield have received funding from the European Regional Development Fund in recent years.
In the city centre, 3 St Paul’s Place was the first new office scheme in the middle of Sheffield to begin after the recession. It received £7m towards the total development cost of £27m.
Fox Valley, the new retail park on part of the Stocksbridge steelworks site, was given up to £8m, while the Grey to Green project to revive the road along West Bar was secured with £1m in funding.
Sheaf Valley Park above the railway station and Sheaf Square - the area in front of the station including the Cutting Edge water feature - also benefited.
Votes will be counted after polling stations close at 10pm next Thursday, June 23. There will be a single citywide result for Sheffield, and a regional total, before the national outcome is known.