The 2015 Business Election Debate: Living and working in LondonMarch 11, 2015
This week London First and the Federation of Small Businesses hosted ‘Working and living in London: The 2015 Business Election Debate’, to hear from the business spokesmen ahead of what will be a closely fought General Election.
The Rt Hon Dr Vince Cable MP, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills; the Rt Hon Matthew Hancock MP, Minister of State for Business and Enterprise; and Chuka Umunna MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, set out their respective stalls on business policy, and answered questions from large and small London businesses in a debate on the key issues facing business.
On Europe and Tax, Executive Director, Policy, David Lutton said:
“We welcome the apparent agreement between the parties that the EU has the potential to stimulate economic growth. And in particular the recognition by Chuka of Jo Valentine’s comment that without being a springboard to the European economy, London is less attractive to foreign investment.
“But as Vince said what business requires is greater stability and certainty over our long term commitment to the European project. Vince notes that the Scottish experience tells us a referendum can become a “everendum”. And even Brexit would result in years arguing over what the nature of a future relation would look like. Chuka’s response to dealing with this uncertainty is for the UK to lead the charge for reform, as London First called for in its paper on Europe last year.
“On ensuring we maintain a competitive tax regime, we welcome the statement by Matthew that we need to create an tax environment that supports business and wealth.
“This must include more fiscal autonomy for regional and local government. Therefore we would echo Chuka’s comments that the UK is currently overly centralise and his support for devolving more business rates to address local issues.”
On Infrastructure, Executive Director, Policy, David Leam said:
“It was striking how all parties expressed a high level of confidence in the UK’s ability to undertake major infrastructure projects. The tone was for the most part one of consensus and continuity, with participants competing with each other in their support of key projects such as Crossrail. While it would have been fun to have seen more blood on the floor, the absence of it does of course bode well for future infrastructure planning and funding.
“A couple of differences of emphasis caught my ear. Chuka and Matthew crossed swords on the potential value of the National Infrastructure Commission proposed by Sir John Armitt. Matthew struck a sceptical note that it would add much to the process, while Chuka retorted that this seemed a curious thing to say given the government’s support for the Airports Commission process. I was also struck by Vince’s observation that borrowing for investment should be treated differently to wider public spending and that with low interest rates this was a historically good time to invest in infrastructure. It will be interesting to see to what extent any future government seeks to find some wiggle room on this point in their manifestos and then in the summer spending review.
“Finally, it was notable to hear both London MPs grumble about rail services. Vince decried the “grotesquely overcrowded” conditions on SW suburban services which he identified as a priority for action. Chuka meanwhile expressed his ongoing frustration at the quality of service for his constituents, calling for the “Londonisation” of suburban rail services through transferring responsibility for provision to TfL. I expect rail capacity and control to be hot topics for future discussions between the Mayor and Transport Secretary – whatever the configuration of parties or personalities end up in those posts.”
On Aviation, Director of Let Britain Fly, Gavin Hayes said:
“We welcome Chuka calling for an end to dither and delay on big infrastructure projects and reaffirming Labour’s commitment to a swift decision, post-Airports Commission, on London and South East airports in the national interest whilst taking into consideration environmental concerns.
“Vince emphasised that there are serious political and environmental considerations that need to be taken on-board in the context of a decision to expand London and South East airports.
“In a panel exchange Matthew pointed out that it was his Government that established the Commission and strongly hinted that if the Conservatives form the next Government they will act upon its recommendations. The idea behind the Commission he said was to “bring politicians together on this and take some of the party political ding dong out of it”.
“In response to a question from Stansted, Matthew went on to say that in the interim period before a decision on runway expansion, we must make better use of existing capacity at, amongst others, Stansted, but in order to deliver this, London would need better transport to and between airports. Improvements to surface access to Stansted, in particular its rail link with the capital, is something that London First has long lobbied for.”
On Housing, Programme Director, Policy, Jonathan Seager, said:
“Housing was conspicuous by its absence from the meat of the debate, although it did receive a passing mention from Chuka who expressed concern that London was becoming unaffordable for many workers.
“Chuka said that Labour was committed to building more homes in the capital and improving the rights of those living in the private rented sector.”
On Skills, Sian Morgan, Public Affairs Manager said:
“Although – as Matthew said – there is no limit to visas for study, London First has long argued that ministerial rhetoric over migration targets creates uncertainty for international students, so we were very pleased to hear both Chuka’s and Vince’s commitment to removing this economically valuable group from migration figures.
“We agree with Matthew’s comments that our universities are a fantastic source of exports and provide a world class education to many foreign students; but we are concerned that the narrowing of post-study work opportunities puts UK universities at a competitive disadvantage. We therefore welcomed both Chuka and Vince’s pledge to increase options for these potential future business leaders to work here after completing their studies.
“Closer to home, we were pleased with all three spokespeople’s commitment to improve opportunities from both academic and technical routes post-school, to equip better Londoners with the skills the capital needs”
Full transcript available on request, contact Sian Morgan, firstname.lastname@example.org