BCC: ‘George the Builder’ – can he fix it?

Commenting on Chancellor George Osborne’s speech at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, John Longworth, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce, said:

“The Chancellor could have delivered his conference speech in a hard hat and hi-vis. George the Builder set out to demonstrate his commitment to improving Britain’s infrastructure and competitiveness. He now needs to demonstrate that he can, indeed, fix the problems that still hold our businesses back.

“George Osborne is right to say that Britain needs to be better prepared in the event of a future global slowdown. Yet the UK remains under-prepared for an economic shock. We have more to do to fix the fundamentals here at home, from training and infrastructure through to access to finance and export. The achievement of the Chancellor’s deficit and debt targets is essential. Otherwise, future governments will lack the headroom needed to support the economy when times are tougher.

“The Chancellor talks of a ‘new settlement with businesses. For too many companies, though, it feels like a set of impositions rather than a grand partnership. Governments must not forget their responsibility to deliver high-quality education, so that businesses can then invest in training, skills and higher wages – rather than constantly make up for the deficiencies of the system.” 

On the Chancellor’s surprise announcement on business rates, Longworth said: 

“It is highly questionable for the Chancellor to announce major changes to business rates without consulting broadly with the business communities that pay them.

“The detail of the Chancellor’s plan is critically important. Businesses will want assurances that greater local control over business rates does not translate to them becoming a milch cow for local government.

“Businesses are adamant that they will not accept taxation without representation. Tick-box consultation on business issues isn’t enough, and elected mayors must not have powers to impose business rate premiums without a business ratepayers’ vote in support of their proposals.” 

On the announcement of a National Infrastructure Commission, Longworth added:

“The announcement of a new National Infrastructure Commission is an ambitious move to get key transport and energy projects built – rather than just debated. Businesses will welcome the appointment of Lord Adonis to build cross-party consensus and drive key projects forward.

“However, the new Commission isn’t worth setting up if politicians block its decisions. We will be watching closely to ensure that the Commission is able to achieve the goal of getting roads laid, railways improved, runways built, new houses delivered and our energy security ensured.