On Friday 16 April 2010, over 75 business leaders gathered for a political hustings event involving three leading politicians from the West Midlands region. Held at Aston Business School and organised in conjunction with Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the event saw the parliamentary hopefuls deliver speeches on their party’s’ policies followed by a question and answer session chaired by Peter Shearer, Director of the Business Partnership Unit, Aston University.
Jerry Blackett, Chief Executive of Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and Industry introduced the session, highlighting how the election and coming years were ‘an important time for business’ and invited the politicians to state how their party can help business in the local area emerge from the recession as well as making
Birmingham the most appealing destination in Europe for businesses
in the future.
Peter Shearer welcomed Lorely Burt, the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate for Solihull, to the stage to deliver her opening comments. As the Shadow Minister for Business, Innovation and Skills, Lorely was keen to show her commitment to both large and small businesses. Firstly she focused on entrepreneurs and their importance to the British economy. In particular, she talked of more support for female entrepreneurs to start-up their own business and more support for young people. A large portion of the Liberal Democrat budget would contribute towards apprenticeships, foundation degrees and the abolition of tuition fees on a rolling six-year programme. Lorely also explained how the Liberal Democrats are the only party to document where all money is derived from and where it will be spent in their 2010 manifesto.
Finally, Lorely stated that the current government has not delivered their SME business policy of ‘Think small first’ and that in order to succeed, businesses need and want certainty and stability. In order to gain this, voters should support the ‘Business Party’, the Liberal Democrats.
was next to deliver her speech as the prospective Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for the Meridan constituency. Stepping up to the stage, she introduced her speech by asking the audience ‘Who
will you choose?’ placing emphasis on which candidate the audience would like to see as the next Prime Minister.
She talked of the fragile economy and how increasing national insurance, widely seen as job tax, would stamp on the green shoots of recovery for the UK. Instead, she acknowledged that cuts were necessary, not by increasing tax elsewhere, but by cutting government ‘waste’. She outlined how local governments have managed to save 2% in their expenditure and that this could also be applied centrally without compromising ‘frontline services’.
Caroline also talked of the necessity to reduce the ‘red tape’ bureaucracy which has made the UK the 4th most burdened country in the world and she also mentioned another policy which would introduce the reduction of corporation tax for small businesses. In order to encourage more business start-ups, the Conservative party would also offer reduced business rates not just for the first year of business, but for the first 6 years.
Caroline finished off her speech by reiterating the need for new ideas to bring Britain out of the recession and that this will come in the form of party leader, David Cameron.
Finally, the Labour Candidate for Edgbaston, Gisela Stuart
, delivered her party’s agenda. Opening with a brief account of the unpredictability of the recession, Gisela was quick to counteract the arguments of the previous speakers. She mentioned that the economic problems cannot be solved or ‘cross-stitched’ by cuts over 6 years as suggested by Caroline, but that something must be done to help businesses and people immediately.
She argued the importance of apprenticeships and school/business links, urban regeneration, medical research, construction and the importance of local companies employing local people.
All three candidates were in agreement that the high-speed rail linking Birmingham with London and the new runway at Birmingham airport are significant breakthroughs in terms of shifting the balance of the economy outside of London.
Once the candidates had concluded their initial speeches, it was over to the audience to start a lively question and answer session. Questions asked included;
‘Given the size of national debt, how do the parties propose to balance cutting expenditure against investing for jobs and growth?’
‘How do you propose to tackle the issue of long term unemployment in Birmingham?’
‘Is the planned 1% rise in NICs an avoidable tax on jobs?’
The Q&A session encouraged an animated debate with further questions that included MPs expenses, the recent Cadbury takeover,wealth creation and the questionable future of manufacturing in the West Midlands. The event concluded with networking and drinks.