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Wednesday, 7 October 2009

President's Blog: Conservative Party Conference

by Peter Heginbotham, President of Greater Manchester Chamber

The Monday began with a Radio Manchester interview in which I was explaining the benefits to the city of the conference being here - the footfall, the filling of restaurants and hotels, the showcasing of Manchester and all that. Although the congestion is a perishing nuisance I pointed out we’d been given plenty of practice this year with the long-term closures in Oxford St and Deansgate.

Then it was out to our Skill Centre in Trafford Park which David Cameron’s people had picked out as worth him making a visit. He was even more impressed than that and spent a lot of time visiting all the sections and talking to the trainees and the trainers. It’s a classic case of something being designed on the basis of local need not some arcane funding programme designed for other regions and other needs. I would hope it’s a graphic example of something that works and which will inform future policy decisions

Back in the city I was on a Question Time-type panel debate at the Art Gallery organised by the Chambers of Commerce. Philip Hammond, shadow Chief Secretary was the key guest along with Gerard Lyons, economist of Standard Chartered Bank, Ian King the business journalist, Adam Marshall of British Chambers of Commerce and myself. Mr Hammond was focusing on what he called the debt crisis and the jobs crisis. He was concerned about corporate debt too but I pointed out that smaller businesses could perhaps do with some more – after all access to finance for expansion (as well as availability of credit insurance) are two key issues that still need urgent attention.

I don’t think any panel member wanted to see wholesale cuts in public sector jobs, although Mr Hammond agreed that we should have some restraint and more particularly the flexibility on job sharing and part time working that much of the private sector has already had to swallow. We did feel though that the priority is to grow the private sector as quickly as possible and to reduce public sector employment (in some areas at least) in parallel. It was a lively session and people were still ready to ask more questions when time ran out.

On Tuesday morning I chaired an event at which the Chamber hosted a visit by Oliver Letwin. He gave some very thorough answers to questions posed by directors of some of our largest company members. There were very encouraging comments about ending the culture of regulation-creep (my phrase) and the importance of not delaying major infrastructure projects where the decision can be taken now but the main expenditure isn’t needed immediately. We were able to alert him to the issues about credit insurance, a point he’ll be picking up with colleagues.

Visit the GM Chamber website for a list of the remaining fringe events you can attend

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