BUSINESS IS GOOD FOR BRITAIN
During the last year or so, British business has not always been presented in a good light. Inadequate financial regulation, the ongoing liquidity crisis, the continuing furore (rightly) over ‘bankers bonuses’ and fat pay packets, rows and allegations about unpaid labour and corporate corruption have all contributed to a negative representation of business in Britain. Despite those negatives, it is undoubtedly the case that Business is Good for Britain, and the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) are leading a campaign to promote the image, importance and hugely positive contributions which Business makes to our society. We at the Mid Yorkshire Chamber (which is a fully accredited member of the BCC) are fully supportive of this initiative.
When William Hague recently told businesses they must “stop complaining and work harder” his call was not the first to disparage the role of business in Britain. In fact it tallies with an ongoing business-bashing narrative which began following the Credit Crunch in 2008, a narrative which has tended to lump together all businesses, the vast majority of which consistently work to high ethical standards, as being synonymous with materialism and greed.
The Defence Secretary Philip Hammond then chimed in, labelling business leaders “whingers”. At last years Labour Party Conference Ed Miliband’s speech compared businesses to ‘predators’ and appeared to allege that our country’s wealth-generating businesses were simply after a ‘fast-buck’. It is clear that in our present economic plight this narrative must change.
The BCC campaign is aimed at celebrating the hard working, value-adding businesses which contribute so much to the wider good of our society, and our Chamber consistently lobbies the Government to support a growth agenda by introducing business-friendly measures which will stimulate enterprise, encourage investment and help create employment.
Businesses create wealth and encourage social mobility. They provide training and development and opportunities for career progression. Businesses give young people chances to succeed, and through apprenticeship programmes help ensure our longer-term skill sets are in place for the future. Many communities depend on local businesses, which in addition to providing employment, frequently play an active role in many wider aspects of local society.
During these very challenging economic times we need to recognise the tremendous responsibility which falls upon business to lead us into recovery. Business-bashing will not solve the UK’s economic problems but rather, our shared determination and great efforts will be the key to renewed economic growth.
THE IMPORTANCE OF A BALANCED ENERGY POLICY
It is vital that the UK should have a balanced energy mix which will ensure future security of supply. The problem which continually arises is that whatever the form of electricity generation - keen advocates and equally vocal detractors assume opposing stances in every debate.
The UK’s position is complicated by legally-binding carbon reduction targets which cannot be met unless the energy mix is made much more environmentally friendly. A number of existing coal-fired and nuclear power stations are at the end of their useful lives and are due for phased closure in forthcoming years. This electricity generating capacity will have to be replaced.
Time is running out, and there is now a real risk to the supply of guaranteed power and light for our business and domestic consumers.
Carbon-Capture technology is not yet available on a commercial scale. Wind farms provide an interesting alternative to other energy options, but whilst attractive to some groups, are completely unacceptable to others - and it is unlikely that these will provide more than 10% of our electricity requirements. New nuclear plants must be included in the mix, but plans are behind schedule, and it is therefore essential that the Government now commits to some policy decisions which can be relied upon so that we can be assured of long-term energy supply as a solid platform for future investment and economic growth.
DILUTED POLICIES & DELAYS
The Beecroft report into employment legislation has illustrated a disappointing lack of cohesion in Government. While the Prime Minister, who called for the report, initially welcomed its findings his Lib Dem Coalition partners have vilified Beecroft’s proposals. The outcome of this disagreement has been yet another watered-down policy compromise which pleases neither side and lacks the long-term strategic vision which a growth agenda demands.
Furthermore, Nick Clegg announced last week that the Government will pump billions of pounds into the economy in infrastructure spending (even including nuclear) and house building. Whilst businesses will rightly welcome this commitment to growth our enthusiasm is tempered with a justifiable degree of caution. We have heard pre-announcements, announcements and post-announcements on infrastructure spending but, since the Chancellor’s Statement last November, are yet to see any promised projects begin. The Government must ensure that spade-ready projects are now accelerated for an immediate start to infrastructure investments which will which bring medium-term boosts and long-term benefits to our economy.