So what will 2012 bring to those of us dedicated to encouraging enterprise? Over the last few weeks I have been considering what it requires to give the country a much needed business boost. Whilst I cannot claim any amazing insights my general conclusion was that we can often stimulate growth by stopping doing things! Vast sums of money are not needed – just goodwill, strength and determination. So to add to the numerous New Year lists here is my humble offering of a half dozen ideas which need some work but will hopefully provoke debate:
1. Speed up the planning process. Forget the controversy over the government plans and lets assume that the Green Belt is fully protected. Planning officers must be dragged into the real world. Any development – residential or commercial – on brownfield land which is say less than 5000msq and is designed to the highest BREEAM standards automatically gets planning permission. This improves the quality of stock at a stroke and is a much greater stimulus than enterprise zone status. It allows planners to concentrate on more strategic developments and hopefully improve the plethora of “rabbit hutch” housing that springs up everywhere.
2. Reform economic development. There are some truly inspirational EcDev professionals in local authorities. There are also some blockers. Let each LEP control all of the staff and budgets for EcDev in their areas. This should allow LEPs to really influence what happens. It puts budgets in control of businesses who are best placed to know what business needs and should avoid the repetition of meetings, papers, local initiatives etc. More money should get to the front line as staff numbers are rationalised and the leaders in EcDev are finally given the authority to do what they know needs to be done.
3. Free local authority assets. Remove all restrictions on what local authorities can do with their asset base. If they want to sell and spend the funds then let them. We vote for our representatives so give them the power to improve the area as they see fit. If they mess it up then local voters have only themselves to blame. It would herald a new era of freedom and true localism. I know of many councillors who could really make a difference given the opportunity instead of tinkering within archaic rules.
4.Change government contracting. We hear many promises about helping SMEs to access government contracts but little happens. With immediate effect any government contract of less than £10m pa can only be let to an SME. The government would get better value for money, more innovation, less “cronyism” and greater transparency.
5. Encourage philanthropy. There are too few people acting as philanthropists. We need a new era of giving and sharing – not through ineffective taxation but directly. Encourage giving in big companies via a simple annual league table of FTSE250 companies based on percentage of CSR to turnover. Make sure that it has to be displayed prominently. It will allow people to make up their mind what type of company they want to do business with. Amongst the rich reform inheritance tax to penalise those who “want to take it with them”.
6. Stop giving government support to large companies. Most business people are sick of seeing large multinational companies getting handouts because they threaten to move or invest elsewhere. They should be able to raise their own investment and I doubt if one penny of government support has actually contributed to an increased take for the Treasury. We should be encouraging growth via start ups and new emerging businesses not propping up tired leviathans.
Well that should set a few hares running!