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Wanted: business-friendly government

Recalling what chartered accountants wanted for London four years ago in the last London Mayor elections, former LSCA president Malcolm Bacchus argues the issues remain the same and calls for a new government to remember the importance of business in funding commitments.

December 2019

The LSCA carried out a survey nearly four years ago asking what London chartered accountants, and the businesses they serve, wanted in the new Mayor’s London plan.

There will be a new Mayoral election next spring. In a normal world, we might be thinking about that now. But, suddenly, with little warning - or rather a lot of discounted warnings – we have a general election coming up and a chance to look at what central government should do for business.

Despite promises from both local and central government that we would see a business-friendly climate, it really seems as if no-one is thinking about SME business needs, let alone putting them at the top of the agenda. We are seeing, in this election campaign, massive financial commitments to the public by all parties, seemingly without an awareness that it is business which provides sales, profits and jobs that generate the tax income to pay for those commitments and without which they will not be met.

So, where were we?

Concern over housing in London remains a big issue. We’ve heard promises of new house starts, but beyond a large number of tall tower blocks mainly, but not exclusively, in central London, we’ve seen little to address the housing crisis.

The transport infrastructure, too, remains at the top of the list: CrossRail is running four years late and £2.8bn over budget and absorbing monies which might have been spent elsewhere. Certainly, even when it opens it will do little to dilute the problems of over 50 years of underinvestment across London as a whole.

Business rates are still a problem, and a growing one as the high street suffers from on-line competition, although it is not a high street problem alone.

Proper skills training was there on the list last time and still is.

These are all re-occurring issues which have not been fixed. And if we did our survey now, I suspect additional concerns of lack of school places and the issues of capacity within the NHS (can anyone get a doctor’s appointment these days?) would add to the woes of attracting and keeping good staff in London.

High rents, high rates, difficult commuting, lack of housing and other supporting infrastructure, the ULEZ (soon to be expanded), the congestion charge, parking – all these issues increase costs to business and lessen the attractiveness of London as a place for trade.

There are, of course, ways to ameliorate the problems which are not merely a matter of throwing money (if there is any) at London. The government could look to a better development national policy: encouraging the growth of other cities and taking the pressure off London.

Maybe London is simply too large for its own, and its inhabitants, good.

Whatever the solution, the next government needs a bold and comprehensive plan if London – and, indeed the country, for many of these issues are not solely London problems - is to continue to attract the right businesses and good employees.

When the Brexit debate is over – and I have purposely avoided discussing that – we must hope that the government, whichever it will be, can make good on the forgotten promise of being business-friendly.

Malcolm Bacchus is Principal of Baccma Consulting and a former president of the LSCA (2017/18). The views expressed in this article are his own.

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