The best business advice, opinion, news and expertise in Greater Manchester and further afield.

Friday, 24 February 2012

A Tick Box Exercise in Progress

By Chris Fletcher, Policy Director at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

“What makes a business tick? Don't answer that just yet I will come back to that in a few moments.

“This week saw the starting pistol fired on the first QES of 2012. It doesn't seem like five minutes since we put the record-breaking Q4 survey to bed, but time and tide waits for no survey and so we are up and running again. Hopefully you have already taken part in the only economic survey that counts, that others try and emulate but can’t. So, don’t go for cheap imitations - stick with the original and best.

“On the subject of all things economic - the budget is looming and as ever we have written to the Chancellor with what members have told us (from previous QES surveys and other sources) as to what they would like to see him announce on 21st March.

“I think it's fair to say that we have been critical of government with their unique approach to a growth strategy by utterly confusing business with a myriad of similar sounding schemes that grab the headlines then seem to disappear into the Whitehall labyrinths never to return - credit easing anyone? So with this in mind, we have been succinct in our letter to the Chancellor and kept it brief:

“This week also saw a very interesting article from Lord Digby Jones about giving business a vote in the upcoming mayoral referendums. This isn't as wild a possibility as you may think. I've been involved with talks at a national level about how to make something similar happen as a result of the Localism Act and the introduction of neighbourhood plans. In a nutshell, neighbourhood plans pave the way for local communities to have the power to vote on development plans for those areas. All sounds really good, but what about businesses in those areas - should they have a vote and if so, how would that happen?

“This may be a good question for a piece of policy- wonkery and naval gazing but is actually becoming a bit of a critical issue. Last year you may recall, after a piece of work done by the Chamber, Trafford Park was nominated as a business neighbourhood pilot as part of the Government’s response to look at how businesses can take advantage of the powers of neighbourhoods contained in the Localism Act. The concept was to have local plans endorsed by a business referendum to OK any decisions made on the ground. This mechanism already exists, sort of, in the rules around Business Improvement Districts but taking this one stage further under the scope of the Act and we could see joint referenda of residents and businesses from the same area voting on development plans.

“On Thursday, this issue raised its head again at a seminar I was speaking at on new rules around the retention of business rates by local authorities. I will do a separate piece on this in the next few days, but one question I posed was: “In amongst all the "excitement" around local councils being able to retain an increase in business rates, what mechanism is there for a veneer of accountability to be put on this so that the people who are funding this (i.e. business owners) have some form of say in what happens to the money raised?” I know - how about a business vote?

“Via a back door route through the Localism Act the Government has, unintentionally, opened a bit of a Pandora’s box and I'm not too sure what the results of this will be. The Chamber will continue to work, as ever, to get the best result for business and make sure that when I get asked in the future what makes a business tick, the answer will be about having more responsibility and taking control of local issues.

“So before any businesses officially get the vote why not use the opportunity for a "warm up" and take part in our QES? It will only take a tick."

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