Richard Spring MP: Strong business relations have been integrated into the Party
When Labour came into office, they sought to portray themselves as replacing the Conservatives as the natural party of business. Indeed we witnessed sections of the business and financial community transfer their support to the Labour Party. In the past, business contact with the Conservative Party had been seen by some to be too diffuse.
To remedy this, a major listening exercise, Conservative Business Relations, was initiated by David Cameron and constructed to dissect the actual nature and extent of the problem and its implications for our economy, productivity and job creation.
More than a year ago a comprehensive and focussed programme was started to engage with business, actively chaired by Alan Lewis, a successful businessman.
During this time, 20 seminars have been held in key sector areas with 150 Chief Executives and separately 150 trade association representatives, covering a range of areas from technology, media and telecommunications to consumer goods and retail.
Members of Parliament with a specialised knowledge of these different business categories were appointed as parliamentary sector champions to participate in the seminars and to lend their personal experience to the process.
All the comments, all the policy ideas, have been meticulously fed through to the Party policy groups and relevant shadow teams. The insights have at times been extraordinary, like the level of shoplifting and of physical attacks on staff which has become a feature of British retailing life, a mirror image of our contemporary society.
Last month, David Cameron spoke to well over 100 of the CEOs who attended the sector discussions. He was very enthusiastically received.
Conservative Business Relations has also been divided into eleven United Kingdom regions. Self-starting business people have chaired the regional activities. Major events have taken place all over the country. It is a central part of the 2008 strategy to strengthen the regional interface with business.
Central to this has been Conservative City Circle, originally founded by Howard Flight, and co-chaired by Michael Spencer. It has formed the base for a comprehensive and assiduous effort by George Osborne and his team to get to know the City.
Conservative City Future, chaired by a young lawyer Marcus Booth, was launched to involve the younger City generation, and has been very active, not least in providing important research work. This has been led by a young City researcher, Manish Singh.
Some of Britain’s most successful entrepreneurs now form part of George Osborne’s New Enterprise Council. Recently Patrick Snowball, former Executive Chairman of Norwich Union, agreed to chair a task force examining incentives to green investment. A review on reducing the burden of regulations, chaired by Sir David Arculus, has been set up by Alan Duncan. His shadow ministerial team is busily looking at small business issues specifically. The Campaign for Enterprise, overseen by Brian Binley MP, highlights small business in the House of Commons. Corporate Day at the Conservative Party conference has become a popular and informative event.
For the first time the Party has built a structure dedicated to engaging with business and commerce, with the full support and encouragement of the Party leadership. Of course, there are gaps to be filled and more consultation is needed, but the exercise has been invaluable in building contacts and a considerable depth of knowledge.
There is a huge task ahead for an incoming Conservative government to dismantle the business unfriendly edifice which Gordon Brown has created. However, there is a real determination to do so, with a much clearer understanding now of where action is most urgently required. This will be foremost in the minds of David Cameron and George Osborne when, as growing numbers of business people hope, they take up residence in Downing Street after the next General Election.