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What some of Bradford's best business brains hope for from the next government
Without doubt, the state of the economy and the iceberg of debt looming over us are the big issues of this election.
So what should a new government do to support and revive the economy, and what should it avoid doing that might set the country on a collision course with that iceberg?
Andrew Mason is the flamboyant boss of Newmason Properties, the company that spent £80m constructing more than 400 apartments on the site of Shipley’s Victoria Mills, and chairman of Bradford Property Forum.
He said: “Over the last ten years we have been hoodwinked into thinking that financial services was the way to go. I haven’t heard any of the political parties say what they would do to help manufacturing.
“The idea that we can import all our manufactured goods is stupid. What I would like to see are some concrete policies to help manufacturing, such as tax relief and rate relief. When you start up a business, the red tape is prohibitive. New manufacturing businesses should have two years of relief as an incentive to get going.
“The other thing I would like the new government to do is encourage the building of affordable, sustainable housing. In 2004, we were told the country needed 240,000 new houses a year. In 2008, we built 90,000. Last year we had only 60,000 new houses – for a population of 62 million.
“Time and time again we have built our way out of recession. New houses create a chain of demand – for lawyers, estate agents, carpets, fridges.
“Zero-rated VAT on materials and relief on Corporation tax would get things started. Developers also need incentives to be able to bring Grade II-listed buildings back into use.”
The one thing that the new government should avoid at all costs, he said, was to rush into swingeing public sector cuts to deal with the £170 billion debt iceberg.
“Government should take a 20-year strategic view. This Parliament should deal with 25 per cent of it, with successive Parliaments dealing with another 25 per cent, and so on.
“Cutting out 40,000 jobs would only cut us off at the knees. My daughter is 15, but what’s life going to be like for her when she’s 35? We need to work our way out of this slowly and steadily,” he added.
For the past 20 years, Clive Miers has been a Shipley-based independent finance and mortgage adviser. Unlike Andrew Mason, he thinks a new government should take urgent and radical action on public spending.
He said: “Canada reacted like that to a similar crisis many years ago, taking a big axe to the public sector. Spain, which has a Socialist Prime Minister, is going to do it. Greece will have to. So we are all in the same game.
“We are not through this crisis yet, and there is another one coming because private debt has been turned into public debt. If it was up to me, I would cut Trident and put a limit on public sector salaries.
“The new government should not increase public spending. Nor should they mess about with efficiency cuts because the Civil Service will know how to direct those. I would like to see a return to some form of integrity in the banking sector and the discouragement of the consumerist madness we have had.”
John Tague is managing director of the 65-year-old Bradford family firm Seabrook Crisps. In spite of the recession, the firm has massively expanded sales and spent more than £5m on capital investment over the past couple of years.
He said: “I think we need to encourage enterpreneurialism. Whoever gets in should speed up the payment of bills to small firms and help grant investment and the employment of apprentices by cutting red tape.
“The amount of paperwork you have to fill in to take more people on is onerous. Businesses don’t have the time to do that. We can make decisions in two seconds. If customers require something we are back to them in ten minutes, an hour, the same day.
“I would encourage the new government to look at creative ways of reducing the deficit. Putting up the top rate of tax is only going to encourage firms to leave the UK, not come here. If VAT goes up, that might discourage people from spending.”