I attended the IoD MP’s Panel event at the Mint Hotel so thought I’d share my experiences, thoughts and musings after the event. Firstly I have to say it was a very well organised event thanks to Charlotte Britton. The Mint Hotel is a great venue and thank goodness it was on a Friday lunchtime as opposed to Monday or Tuesday! I hope the IoD get the message that Thursday/Friday lunches are better times for events than earlier in the week.
The Panel started with some lengthy introductions by the Panel members, particularly the politicians! There seemed to be a lot of the usual white noise and statements about socially responsible employers and the green agenda. I’m not sure whether the politicians had looked at the attendees list before they arrived but I suspect most of the people in the room were SME owners who are all doing their bests to keep their heads above water in difficult economic time – lectures on being ‘socially responsible’ didn’t sit well. Kris Hopkins however made a very good point about the Conservatives demise 13 years ago in that they were good at economy but not good at social. Probably accurate then, have things changed?
Once we’d got the party political broadcasts out of the way time was ticking on so we moved on to the question and answer session. The first question related to a public/private sector initiative that had been set up to inform the government of businesses’ needs. Unfortunately no-one else in the room had heard of it so the dialogue became a bit one-dimensional and moved on.
I then tabled a question relating to the upcoming public sector strikes. In summary, last year the businesses I am involved with were hamstrung by the appalling weather conditions and looking forward to the 30th November with the public sector strikes and a potential ‘winter of discontent’ looming I expressed my concern that at the very time business needed a boost it may be metaphorically having its hands tied. I tabled that I was disappointed that the coalition hadn’t taken a harder stance on this subject and that Labour haven’t approached this issue with more social responsibility and condemned the strikes and the impact they will have on business and therefore UK Plc.
Fabian Hamilton was the first to respond with a vaguely aggressive defence of workers rights and the unfairness of changing employees’ contracts whilst in employment (this was the message but took some time to get to the point). I attempted to give the Right Hon. Gentleman a view from the private sector, that in the heart of the recession in 2009 many companies asked their staff to accept pay reductions to protect jobs. Staff agreed realising the reality of the situation that they were all in it together. I also took issue with Mr Hamilton about his ‘socially responsible employers’ agenda. He obviously had a bee in his bonnet about this which was to be revealed later.
Broadly, Greg Mulholland and Kris Hopkins agreed that the strikes were going to be to the detriment of the UK economy and took no account of the balance between public sector vs private sector pension provisions. There was a small amount of heckling from the audience that many private sector employers had no pension provision at all which is directly opposed to the fortunate position of those in the public sector. Kris pointed out that the moves to change public sector pensions had an aim of creating a financially viable pension structure for the long term which seemed to make sense.
The MD for the Works Recruitment, Craig Burton, then asked a very poignant question regarding AWR (The Agency Workers Regulations). I am familiar with the issues he was raising as I am involved in a number of recruitment businesses however I was a bit staggered that none of the politicians seemed to have a grasp of this issue. They were left to ask very open questions and then suggested that the issues were detailed and sent to them in an email so they could consider them. I am sure if I was the person asking the question I’d be thinking that could be a whole lot of wasted time.
Martin O’Toole from McGrath O’Toole, asked about the frustrating red tape associated with VAT and generally dealing HMRC. He talked through the agonising process of becoming registered for VAT and the lengths he had to go through to prove that he was indeed who he said he was, such as printing off screen shots of his website as our friends at HMRC apparently couldn’t view it themselves! The response across the board from the politicians was a resigned sigh and “Well HMRC is a big old institution and therefore a very difficult ship to turn”. Martin was rightly frustrated that, as a government body, HMRC should echo government policy in its action and reduce all of this red tape so businesses can get on with doing business.
There were other questions with quite specific issues around them that I wasn’t familiar with so unfortunately haven’t been able to recall exactly what they were however I am sure they were important to the people asking the questions and it made for good debate.
In summing up Terry Hodgkinson made a very good point about how the transport infrastructure was critical to the success for the nation and how freight was potentially crippling our motorways. He suggested a potential solution might be to encourage freight to travel through the night rather than in rush hour and throughout the day. He quite rightly commented that the roads were often empty through the night and applying a similar policy to freight that is on the train lines could be beneficial. I have to say I would be completely in agreement!
Fabien Hamilton then had the opportunity to get the metaphorical ‘bee’ out of his bonnet. He went in to a lengthy story loosely based around non-socially responsible employers. His daughter is working for a sports bar on minimum wage plus tips. When the VAT rise was implemented the employer passed the 2.5% increase in vat rise on to the employees by reducing their tips rather than increasing the cost of drinks in the bar (I’m not really sure how this would have worked but bear with me!). This, in Mr Hamiltons view, was a complete injustice as his daughter was trying to save up to join her friend in Canada to open an Art Galley. Now I am sorry if I sound unsympathetic but I am sure that there are many business owners struggling to make ends meet who are doing anything they can to keep their businesses afloat and in turn continue to employ people in the UK.
Overall the event was a big success and stirred up emotions from all sides. Perhaps enhancements to the event could be
- Restrict the politicians introductions to 2 minutes ?(on a timer!)
- Promote the event more widely to get a wider audience
- Choose questions beforehand that have broad appeal and relevance
I will certainly be attending the next ones as if promised they are to be held on a quarterly basis. Thanks again to Charlotte for organising them.
Jonathan Hirst co-founded Leeds based IT services company, ITogether, in 2005, which was established to supply businesses from five to 10,000 staff with fully managed and secure IT networking solutions, from traditional wired networks to wireless systems. Prior to this Jonathan started his career in recruitment setting up Network Marketing, later becoming Network Group Holdings, in 1996. As partner, Jonathan draws on his wealth of business experience to offer practical yet strategic advice to clients about the most appropriate IT solutions to meet their business needs.