David Cameron
David Cameron is not doing enough to secure a favourable renegotiation of the UK's EU membership, says James Barr (Reuters)

A report from a London business group showed its members want the UK to stay in the EU as the threat of a referendum looms overhead.

When the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry surveyed its members, the majority said they benefit from the free movement of labour and open access to trade in the single market.

However, they also demand that the UK's membership be renegotiated, in order to strip away the EU red tape that entangles them.

James Barr, commercial director of London hotel and conference centre The Wesley, sat on the panel at the report's launch event.

In this Q&A with IBTimes UK, Barr relays why the EU is important to the business he works for - and how it is a hindrance.

Q: How optimistic are you that David Cameron will secure a renegotiation of the UK's EU membership in your favour?

James Barr: I'm not that optimistic. I don't see any sign of good leadership on it, to be honest.

I think at the moment he doesn't look convinced himself that he really knows what he's going to do. He's good at saying things that sound sensible. He's got quite a good handle on what a lot of businesses think.

He also looks at what public opinion says. He's trying to occupy some sort of middle ground, to try and appease as many people as possible.

The issues for us are real. I'm not just giving you my personal views, I'm giving you my views based on professional experience.

Q: Do you think he should have renegotiated without calling a referendum?

JB: I think the renegotiation is the most important thing. There's always going to be public opinion which is sceptical about the EU, and that might be more pronounced while the economy isn't doing so well, but if you just remind people that you do get certain rights when you travel to France or wherever, it's a lot easier under the system we have at the moment.

When you remind people of that, they say oh yeah, that's true. But of course, when the chips are down, they start to become more cynical, especially with the growth of more member states.

There's just this ugly perception that there are too many people from Bulgaria, Romania and so on, but I don't think that David Cameron is showing any signs of going into the negotiations to really achieve anything significant.

I'm not expecting monumental success, but on some of the issues he needs to do things to help business. Let's face it, politicians should be looking for things that aren't expensive to do. We're not asking for money. We're not asking for subsidies. We're just asking to facilitate the growth of business. Make it easier to hire people.

What goes with that is making it a little easier to fire them. I don't think there's anything wrong with that. It doesn't mean you're irresponsible. The legislation needs to support you a little bit more than it does.

Q: As someone who benefits from the free movement of labour, because it fills the skills gap you have, how would you convince the man on the street who might be concerned about immigration that being part of the EU is a good thing for not only your business, but him aswell?

JB: Everybody enjoys going out to eat. Everybody enjoys staying in hotels when they can, for holidays, weekend breaks, or when they go on business.

If you want to stay somewhere nice, where the hospitality's really good, anyone with any sense of broad mindedness would have to agree that having staff and a culture that is more diverse creates a better atmosphere.

If it's food, you need chefs who are skilled and can create the options people like these days. British people love diversity of food. They love Chinese and Indian food, and now they're exploring more food from all over the world. If they want that food, they need to understand that we've got to employ the people with the skills to make it.

When it comes to service, their expectations are higher. There's no question about it. I've noticed it over the last few years. If they expect more then they need to understand that as an employer, you've got to have skilled people to provide it - and there aren't enough young British people saying they want to do these kinds of jobs.

I'd throw it back to them. If you can influence your kids or other youngsters in these types of occupations, we could benefit from it. We'd rather give the jobs to British people if we could. We'd prefer that.

Q: You mentioned health and safety law in your speech on the panel and how it can be used too often to bring spurious claims against businesses. Doesn't it have the opposite effect, by making businesses more conscious of the safety of their workplaces, to prevent claims?

JB: You've got a point there. Of course we want to have a safe workplace and a safe environment. We're a hotel, so it's a balance between being safe for the customer and safe for the staff.

I think that sometimes it feels like [the EU is] just asking for more. The administration and the red tape is growing, just like it is with the employment legislation. I find that I'm spending too much of my time dealing with red tape, and health and safety is a part of it.

Certainly the most important thing is to have a safe workplace and a safe environment. There just needs to be a bit of common sense.

We project managed a construction project and the health and safety criteria for that are different when you've got, effectively, a building site going on in the workplace. Then there's a higher level of due diligence.

In everyday circumstances I think you just need to have a reasonable amount of vigilance and, unfortunately, accept that accidents are sometimes going to happen.

The culture at the moment seems to be to prevent everything from happening. Unfortunately, they will. If you have small children, you'll know that. You can wrap them in cotton wool, but they're still going to fall over.

Q: You also mentioned you have problems with employment law - like what?

JB: People are too quick to attack the employer if something goes wrong or doesn't work out. A lot of things seemed to be stacked against you.

I'm all for employment tribunals in the most extreme cases. There needs to be somewhere you can go when things have gone really badly, but there's a culture now where too many people are going to it just because they're disgruntled.

The employer rarely, if ever, sets out for things to go wrong. You always want it to work out if you bring a person in, but sometimes it won't.

I'm working on the assumption myself that you have reasonable ethical standards, and there are a lot of things you won't do. There needs to be legislation to protect the employee, of course there does. I benefit from it myself, but I don't think it needs to be this kind of extreme.

48 hours doesn't make sense to me. In some environments it probably does. You need to monitor certain occupations for safety reasons, but in others I don't think you really need to. It should be down to the employer and the employee.

We pay people for every hour they work. In our environment, most people are paid by the hour. We never ask people to work unpaid and it's an opportunity for them to earn more money. They benefit from it.

If work's something you enjoy, do you really want those kinds of restrictions? It just seems a bit mediaeval to me. It's a bit proscriptive.

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