Election 2015: The Business Debate

Having just sat down on the train and opened my laptop to write this blog, my initial thoughts are: Wow, that was awesome!

The gorgeous sunny walk back to Euston and the magnificent setting of the British Museum were a pleasure. However, this morning’s Election business debate hosted by Grant Thornton, watched by 300 business leaders in the auditorium and broadcast to a wider audience via Bloomberg TV, was the real highlight. I will bet that no one watching  went home disappointed!

The debate was anchored by the brilliant Anna Edwards of Bloomberg TV and in attendance for the Question Time style debate were Chuka Umanna (Labour’s Shadow Business Secretary and MP for Streatham), Nick Boles (Minister of State for the Departments for Business, Innovation & Skills and Education and Conservative MP for Grantham and the beautiful market town of Stamford) and Vince Cable (the Liberal Democrat Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills, who perhaps needs less of an introduction).

After a wait before we went live on television, CEO Elect Sacha Romanovitch kicked off proceedings and talked about the need for a ‘vibrant economy’ in the UK.  Sacha also revealed that the businesses in the room contributed £370bn to the British Economy and employed over one million people; the politicians had been warned about the demographic of the audience.

The opening stages were as you would expect of any debate with the politicians  outlining the party lines you’ll have heard before.  Vince Cable added a nice touch when thanking Grant Thornton for our great work on the Growth Accelerator and then referred to Nick Boles as his colleague – which brought to my attention that due to the coalition this debate might be two v one, rather than the free for all I perhaps naively anticipated.

Chuka, who along with Vince and Nick spoke (and listened!) exceptionally well, promised continuity where possible should Labour be elected and vowed not to rip up things just because they had been implemented by the two men to his right – music to the ears of those within whispering distance.

We then crossed to a Q&A session.  The first question up, and the major topic of discussion for the audience,… tax! (no plugs necessary – see other blogs for my views).  Specifically the tax avoidance/tax evasion debate.  With around half the audience raising their hand to show that they are confused about what tax avoidance is acceptable, the three parties were in agreement that there is a massive difference between putting savings into an ISA and aggressive, contrived planning.  Nick Boles gave us an idea he had about telling the difference: “Go and explain what you are thinking of doing to a local nurse, and see what she thinks about it”.  Chuka Umunna then confirmed that those tax advisors in the audience knew the difference and that seeking their opinion could also be an option – a lovely spot of free marketing for Head of Tax Jonathan Riley, who was in attendance.

Sandwiched in between more questions about tax were discussions on skills and in turn immigration.  The Conservative promise of an EU referendum in 2017 was a major subject of discussion and something that voters will have to consider. Labour and Chuka Umunna’s views are that staying in the EU is fundamental and a vote of the electorate is considered a risk not worth taking, no matter how many supporters it may win over.  Concerns were also raised about the skills shortage, with sourcing expertise from overseas and educating our current crop of students to the fore; Nick Boles being a big supporter of doing maths at A level no matter what your interests or planned career.

After an enthralling couple of hours debate, my final observation was that it seems a shame, in the case of a majority being reached, that only one of these men will be in a decision making capacity over the next five years.  If you were picking a football team to play for your livelihood you’d probably like to include Messi, Ronaldo and Neuer, rather than having to pick one of the clubs that they represent – and, whilst comparing the three gentlemen with the nominees for the Ballon D’Or is a little farfetched, all three surely have something to offer.

Which party, or parties as polls point to a hung parliament, will be raising the metaphoric trophy come 7 May we’ll have to wait and see.

For further information on the Elections, please visit our Election Perspectives page.

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