The competition heats up

Posted on 2 Mar 2010 by The Manufacturer

But Julian Hunt of the Food and Drink Federation says the same issues need addressing for whoever prevails in the election…

Suddenly politics is interesting again. Depending with whom you talk, the Labour Party has managed to claw back a seemingly lost position or the Conservatives have thrown away a seemingly unassailable lead. Either way, both parties appear to heading into the election with the polls a lot closer than anyone could have predicted. Will the Conservatives still win a workable majority of 40+ seats? Will we have a hung Parliament for the first time in a generation? Or will Gordon Brown manage the seemingly impossible and get Labour re-elected?

In some ways, the Prime Minister has a few advantages over his bitter rival David Cameron. After all, Brown can name the date for the general election (and doesn’t have to opt for early May, despite the poor state of his party’s finances); he can wait for publication of the next all-important figures from the Office for National Statistics on the state of the economy (but will they show further signs of economic recovery?); and, above all, he has committed the Government to publishing a final Budget, which is now expected later this month.

If Brown presses ahead with a Budget, the Government has a clear opportunity to show how committed it is to helping employers bounce back after the recession. It is, if you like, his Government’s final chance to articulate clearly the business-friendly credentials of a future Labour administration.

Like all employer organisations we have a list of things that Government should be doing to provide some much-needed stability in the business environment. We also want to see Government use the Budget to ease the unnecessary burdens being placed on businesses, such as the proposed rises in National Insurance Contributions from 2011; extra employment regulation; or the Treasury’s plans to change the Climate Change Agreements with manufacturing sectors such as ours.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives are making encouraging noises about their plans for the economy and how they will help businesses, including a very welcome focus on the need to cut the regulatory burdens on manufacturers.

But as I write this blog the rumours are again swirling around the Westminster village that Brown will call an early Election, obviating the need for a final Budget.

Whatever the truth of that, we can expect the political rhetoric to intensify in the next few weeks, with the state of the economy guaranteed to be one of the main issues of debate in the run up to the election, whenever that may be. The key thing for us is ensuring that whichever party is elected, they remain totally focused on supporting all businesses as they recover from the economic downturn. And we will hold them to account for whatever election pledges they may make.

Julian Hunt, director of communications at the Food and Drink Federation