Big Interview: Jacqueline Gold, CEO, Ann Summers on Brexit

"I can't think of one thing about our membership of the EU that has impacted negatively on my business," Jacqueline Gold, CEO of Ann Summers, tells Essential Retail. "I only see it as a positive and it really scares me in terms of our growth plans that we would be going back down that road."

Gold describes how during the infancy of the Union, Ann Summers tried to take its party planning business into Germany. "We had to pull out," explains Gold. "There was just too much red tape and too many barriers. This would be taking us back to those days, and I know first hand what it was like."

A vocal Conservative businesswoman, Gold admits the Brexit debate is an emotive subject for the British people.

"There aren't many things David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn agree on, and here are two leaders we have voted in, and they and both of their chancellors are saying it would be detrimental to leave, so why aren't we listening?" she asks.

"But I think it's important for business, jobs, growth and the economy," she says, noting how the country is finally in a stronger position financially. "Why would we jeopardise that and plummet into the unknown."

Gold says the retail industry is already witnessing a dip in consumer confidence ahead of the referendum.

"Off the back of the recession, of course it takes time for the consumer confidence to grow again, and we're already seeing the period of uncertainly affecting our customer, who is not converting like they used to," explains Gold, who says Ann Summers is in the top third of performing stores on the high street. "That would only be worsened if we came out. And even the Vote to Leave Campaign acknowledges a period of negative impact to business and the economy."

She says it is only when the economy is strong that the UK can invest in critical services like the NHS, as well as provide better relief for retailers.

She also describes passionately, how improvements for women in the workplace have only occurred in the last couple of decades thanks to Britain's membership of the EU, including prohibiting discrimination, extended maternity pay and making it illegal to sack an employee when she becomes pregnant.

Gold also says leaving the EU would have a detrimental effect on hiring workers at the Ann Summers warehouse and HQ on the edge of London in Croydon.

"Two thirds of our warehouse workers are European, and they've worked for us for years and everybody is paid the same, but we struggle to attract people, for not just lower skilled jobs, but unsocial shift hours. Europeans are very adaptable and willing to work unsociable hours, so it would be devastating for our business to take that pool of talent away."

Gold also believes it would take time to set up international deals to accommodate foreign workers as well as trade deals when selling into Europe online.

"It takes time to build up trust and build up logistics, and it would take years to set up new deals and the workload these changes would make. Our business would be diverted away from trading to excessive amount of admin."

Gold explains: "If we were making a business decision here, you wouldn't be saying 'there's a new idea, I don't know what it's going to turn out like, but I'm going to go down that road with my business'. You wouldn't, would you? That's madness. If you wouldn't do it with your business, why would you do it with you country?

"Britain leads the way in challenging onerous regulations in the EU," she adds. "We need to have our say at that table."

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