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Going for Growth Conference

Last Updated: Monday, February 14th, 2011

ConservativeIntelligence hosted a half day conference discussing what George Osborne needs to do to help British business compete in the world and examining the Coalition Government’s competitiveness agenda.

Our Three Keynote Speakers were:

DAVID WILLETTS MP, Minister for Universities and Science at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills will discuss the Coalition’s policies towards science, higher education, vocational skills and general attitude towards business in the regions.

DAVID GAUKE MP, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury will discuss tax simplification, changes to corporation tax and other key aspects of Treasury policy.

JOHN REDWOOD MP, Chairman of the Backbench Committee on Economic Policy will outline his thinking on taxation, privatisation, the regulation of the financial services sector and, in particular, his plans for backbench policy development on the economy.

The day concluded with a Q&A session with an expert panel (see below). The panel commented on the policy action that is most needed from the Government and what is most likely.

MARK LITTLEWOOD, Director General of the Institute of Economic Affairs and former Head of Media for the Liberal Democrats.

IAIN MARTIN, Deputy Editor of the Wall Street Journal Europe.

NADHIM ZAHAWI MP, Former CEO of YouGov and Conservative Member of the House of Commons Select Committee on Business.

Click here for the Speech by David Gauke

WHERE’S THE GROWTH COMING FROM?

BY TIM MONTGOMERIE

In February 2011 ConservativeIntelligence held its Going for Growth conference.  Key speakers were David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science, David Gauke, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury,  and John Redwood Chairman of the Backbench Committee on Economic Policy.  All were most interesting during the Q&A periods where each spent thirty minutes engaging with the fifty participants.

They would have been concerned, however, if they’d stayed later when, in a Jonathan Dimbleby moment, I asked attendees to raise their hands if they thought the Coalition was doing enough to increase economic competitiveness. Not one hand went up. Nearly every hand went up when I asked if much more needed to be done.

Six concerns were raised most frequently during the Q&A period and in the margins of the event:

  1. The 50p tax rate;
  2. High energy prices caused by an energy policy described by one delegate as “picking winners” but the winning energy sources are all expensive;
  3. Lack of investment in new airport capacity;
  4. Inflexibility on immigration of skilled labour;
  5. A need to ‘end the war on the City’;
  6. The dangers of NIMBYism to business expansion.

 

In the final session Mark Littlewood of the Institute of Economic Affairs summed up the mood: “A major challenge for the UK over the coming years is to create a culture of entrepreneurship rather than entitlement. That won’t happen by accident. The truth is that the Coalition’s ambitions in this area are really rather modest. Things could be worse, of course. Being modestly ambitious is better than not being ambitious at all. But unless the government discovers a more passionate voice around supply side reform – to at least match the apparent fervour surrounding the Big Society – then the best they can hope for in this area is a very modest legacy. That might not be a catastrophe for Britain, but it would be a major disappointment.”

Read Mark’s full essay via http://j.mp/fTrOO9.

I agree with many of the concerns and hope some of them will be addressed in next month’s Budget; already billed by George Osborne as a Budget for Growth. It would be wrong, however, to think that the Coalition has not done anything on growth.  I’ve listed top ten measures as:

  1. 75,000 extra apprenticeships.
  2. Education reforms, including conversion of many LEA-controlled schools into academies.
  3. Putting higher education on to a sustainable funding basis.
  4. Welfare reforms that will encourage more people into work.
  5. Annual reductions in corporation tax from 28% to 24%.
  6. A major Tax Simplification initiative.
  7. Protection of science and infrastructure spending from the worst of the cuts and a plan for a £34bn hi-speed rail link to connect north and south, bringing the regions together.
  8. A promise of the “best broadband in Europe”.
  9. Lord Young’s review of health and safety red tape.
  10. A reorientation of the Foreign Office so that serving Britain’s commercial interests becomes a priority.

 

I think it’s also important to see last week’s conclusion of Project Merlin as the end of the political establishment’s hostility to the City. There is still the all-important Vickers Review on banking structure but once that is concluded we will, hopefully, enter a period of stability for financial institutions and they can plan to expand in London, knowing that the tax and regulatory systems are settled for the foreseeable future.

Read all of the recent Going for Growth essays on ConservativeHome.com, including the conference contribution from Nadhim Zahawi MP, by clicking on http://conservativehome.blogs.com/platform/go-go-go/

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