What do Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff Ice and Guinness all have in common? They are all made by Diageo, which is one of the worlds largest drinks company who recently hosted an LFIG business reception with Rachel Reeves MP, Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury.
The company’s international headquarters, situated in the London Borough of Brent on the Park Royal estate (which is the largest industrial estate in Europe) is veiled by panoramic views of Wembley Stadium and beyond. It created the ideal setting for developing a forum on how to kick-start the economy and generate much needed employment.
Rachel Reeves powerfully developed the concept of a One-Nation Labour economy which would include a plan for jobs and growth including a temporary VAT cut, a national insurance holiday for small firms taking on extra workers and investment in infrastructure and affordable housing. It will also showcase the long-term reforms needed to make the economy stronger such as proper reforms to our banks to boost lending to small and medium sized businesses.
Brent is introducing a range of innovative initiatives to help businesses such as the LGC award winning Supply Chain Project, which matches construction and employment opportunities with local businesses and residents. There is also the Quarterly Business Breakfast event open to all business in Brent giving employers the opportunity to network with other businesses and hear from speakers from the public and private sector, regulatory bodies, service buyers and training providers.
The Labour council has also established the Business Engagement Unit, which contains a contact point at the Council for businesses needing assistance or advice on council related matters. Businesses have often complained that they find it difficult to get in contact with an appropriate member of staff in the Council. Through the Employer Partnership, businesses have access to a member of staff who can assist and point them in the right direction.
Labour’s challenge will be to continue to keep employment and enterprise as a priority. It will also need to stimulate the economy through increasing demand and getting households to spend again, but this time without the performance-enhancing drug of credit finance.
The need for a strong Labour response is further exacerbated by the recent GDP figures, which showed the economy shrinking by 0.3% in the last quarter. The recent indicators also suggest Britain maybe heading for a Japanese style ‘lost decade,’ which was plagued by sluggish economic growth.
Latest Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) forecasts have downgraded the UK’s economy. For 2013 the economy will grow by only 1.2% – down from the previous projection of 2%. The forecast for 2014 puts the UK’s growth at 2% from the previous projection of 2.7%
Promoting entrepreneurial values will have to be at the core of LFIG’s challenges, which chimes with the central values of One Nation Labour; people getting ahead, turning ideas into action, challenging vested interests, generating profit and creating jobs along the way.
Enterprise nurtures social mobility and aspiration, enabling people to achieve their full potential. LFIG and Labour will have to underpin this with a rich dialogue with businesses that shows we can see things from their point of view when it comes to taxation and red tape.
Labour also needs to carefully navigate away from the Coalition’s postcode lottery. Local areas are different. National policies should take into account regional and local sensitivities. What works in an inner city London borough may not necessarily be applicable to an area in Newcastle.
The government should be working with key local stakeholders to develop local economies and maximise their potential. This will help Britain develop a comparative advantage in global markets through research and innovation, particularly against the manufacturing Goliaths of China and Germany.
We also need to invest in the next generation. Businesses should be better linked with schools and colleges to promote opportunities in IT, engineering and design, which will not only build our economy but will give rise to a new wave of young entrepreneurs. They will undoubtedly incorporate cutting edge technology with social media and new trading platforms to put Britain back into the economic premier league.
An economically strong and prosperous Britain will only be achieved through a Labour Government that truly means ‘business.’
Zaffar van Kalwala is a Brent Councillor and member of Hillside Housing Trust