The 2013/03/25 at 07:41
Stéphanie Salti, in London
According to John Longworth, the difficulties encountered by Great Britain have nothing to do with an absence of creativity or competitiveness amongst British SMEs. During the opening speech of the BCC’s yearly conference, on 14 March, the Director General of the BCC showed confidence in the state of health of Britain’s medium-sized enterprises: “When I go around the country meeting businesspeople, seeing companies and talking to young entrepreneurs who say to me: ‘It’s tough but we are doing OK’, then I can say quite definitely: ‘Yes, we have what it takes.
” While the ground is fertile, Britain nevertheless is lacking a big lurch towards growth, according to John Longworth, who calls for a massive boost for large-scale infrastructure projects in the country. Says the Director General: “We want to see new roads and railways, national schemes and local schemes. Seaports and airport development, and soon, so that we have global reach.” Yet the state of British finances hardly allow any margins for manoeuvring for investment in these projects. The answer may even lie in foreign support. Qatar, which has already invested in the department store Harrods, as well as the new London attraction, The Shard, is said to have begun negotiations with the British government in view of investing up to 10 billion pounds in infrastructure projects in the UK, according to an article in the Financial Times dated 14 March.
There is nothing surprising about this really: the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, has always declared his openness to overseas investments in specific industries. One week off from the unveiling of the Budget on 20 March, the Director General of the BCC also reiterated the importance of setting up and financing the Business Bank, the notorious public investment bank to be endowed with one billion pounds, whose concrete applications are still awaited. “It is vital the Business Bank is prepared to lend direct to fast-growing, cash-hungry businesses,” notes the Director General. Meanwhile, guest speaker at the conference, Ed Miliband, the leader of the British Labour opposition, supported the idea of Britain creating local banks in the vein of the German Sparkassen, in other words, locally managed savings funds ensuring the financing of local enterprises. “I am committed to turning that idea into reality during the next government,” he assured his audience of entrepreneurs. To survive, British enterprises also need to be capable of exporting in the best possible conditions.
In response to John Longworth who called on the government to reinforce its support, William Hague, Foreign Secretary, retorted that the government had already beefed up its staff numbers by 300 persons in over 20 emerging countries, with a special focus on Asia and Latin America, and part of Africa, with persons hired exclusively to ensure the promotion of Great Britain overseas. By 2015, 20 new British embassies, consulates or economic bureaux are also to open their doors overseas. “We are taking a much more coherent and determined strategic approach to Ministerial visits to help expand Britain’s market share,” he declared. “And 22 visits to China and 21 to India in the last twelve months. The Prime Minister led an enormous trade delegation during his recent visit to India.”
The Europe issue was also at the core of discussions. While a large majority of enterprises continues to consider it in Great Britain’s interests to remain in the European Union, John Longworth nevertheless indicated that the country could not be maintained in this framework at any price.
“The vast majority want no further integration – with all the burdens and constraints that will bring – and almost half want a renegotiation of existing terms, with only just over a quarter being prepared to accept the status quo,” he underlined. “But the status quo is not an option, in the medium to long term. The EU is moving away from us. We would, by necessity, have to renegotiate our relationship with the EU even to maintain the status quo, even if we were completely happy with what we have at present,” he concluded.