Today we had a visit from Ed Miliband and Ken Livingstone. They had a tour of Kennington Park, owned, developed and managed by Workspace Group, home to lots of interesting, growing businesses. People seem to like working here and it’s a hub for sharing ideas, business and resources.
I was asked to join Ed and Ken for breakfast, and aside from the photo opportunity it offered them (and for me as well I guess…) it was also an opportunity to fire some questions about support for business in London. I’d asked for ideas in advance, so had no shortage of questions, but would I get the chance to ask them?
First, experienced politicians do go out of the way to be friendly. It doesn’t help when you’re trying to be a bit Paxman like, nor does having 50 people watching you “have breakfast”, all smiling earnestly. You start to see why electioneering must be good fun as a rule, particularly if you are not in power. Everyone seems so positive.
So, to those questions. All I can say is that Ed was in listening mode, and he listens earnestly. In fact he didn’t really say very much aside from “are you in business here?” to each of us round the table. Ken is at the other end of the spectrum in terms of discussion and, whatever your political views (or none) he works a small group of people really well. We touched on the issue of business rates, red tape, creating more apprenticeships. Nobody could really disagree with Ken’s consensual views and Ed listened intently throughout. I also realised that Richard Wilson (actor) was sitting next to me. Nice guy.
Thankfully I managed to get more direct time with Ken, as Ed was ushered away by an aide (some very firm handshakes on departure). We a have video interview with Ken here, but we talked about three things:
- Business rates. Ken wants to dump “flat” business rates and set rates against profitability. So a loss making start up or small retailer will pay nothing (?) but Tesco would pay a very great deal… and it was Tesco that he mentioned. Are local corporation taxes realistic? How does a local council assess the profitability of a building owned by a multi-national? Sounds attractive,but I wonder if Ed would agree.
- Banks and Big Business. Kennington Park is a lively business hub, with businesses employing anything between a couple of staff and closer to 100. You could get a lot of business people together very quickly, but big banks and big corporates never visit (unless I’m missing something). There is a thumping gap between big, multinational, cash rich operations and everyone else. Ken’s view is that things went very wrong a number of years back, when banks focused on global finance rather than UK businesses. He’s not the only one who believes this needs reversing step by step, but for the time being bankers will continue to hide away in Canary Wharf.
- London Transport. Ken said “London has got too full again”, and we need some major infrastructure projects to sort things. Well, here, here… but hasn’t it always be thus?
Ken seemed to agree that we could run a more detailed interview session with him. Now on to Dave and Boris………
Finally, key thing I learnt this morning is that we’re surrounded by lots of really interesting, aspiring businesses. Harness that sense of ambition and UK plc can do so much more.