Last Friday afternoon I travelled to the BBC South East studios in Tunbridge Wells to speak on behalf of the small businesses, freelancers, and contractors Crunch campaigns for. I had the pleasure of being on the BBC Sunday Politics South East with presenter Natalie Graham and Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Greg Clark MP.
I’ve worked with both of them before in my previous life as a council leader, such as through signing the Greater Brighton City Deal with Greg, and being in the hot seat with Natalie on previous editions of BBC programmes!
This weekend, other than Greg getting a grilling on the ongoing Southern Rail dispute, we spent most of the programme discussing the economy. Greg’s department is embarking on is creating a UK Industrial Strategy. It’s a huge piece of work – one which many other countries do on a regular basis – but it hasn’t been a part of British Government planning for some time now. It’s a fresh start and a good opportunity to look anew at how our economy works.
The fears I voiced on the programme are that ministers are inevitably kept tempted into two big falsehoods. The first is that pulling a few levers from their Whitehall offices in London will be enough to change things on the ground for business owners. It won’t. Too many policies in the past have failed to engage and support local influencers, from the business and education sectors as well as councils.
The second is that big box items like car factories tend to draw all the attention of ministers as they look for ‘big wins’, when the vast majority of us work in small or medium firms. In fact, the 8.5 million people working in businesses of nine or fewer employees make up the second biggest UK employment segment after corporates.
I was reassured to hear Greg Clark show good understanding of these issues, and I hope he is able to deliver on the passion he expressed for local decision-making and small businesses. We’ll be keeping him to his word and following up by meeting his department soon.
Green Investment Bank privatisation plans
We also discussed the planned privatisation of the Green Investment Bank. This initiative of the last Coalition Government has been widely praised as a success story, helping to bring investment into major environmental projects ranging from wind farms to low energy street lighting. What is less clear is how and why it is now being privatised.
The devil is in the detail, with the Government saying this process will unlock even more investment whilst opponents suggesting that the environmental purpose will be watered down or even lost by its new owners. It’s hard to winkle out the truth of the matter until the full details of the winning bid are made public, but the point I made was that this process is delivering uncertainty for potential projects and investors – which is deeply unhelpful.
Watch the discussion
You can watch the whole programme on BBC iPlayer, with the South East segment starting 37 minutes in – I join in at 49 minutes.