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Business issues invisible in party manifestos, say Bankside firms

Campaigning in this yearâs general election has failed to focus on business issues. Nevertheless, tax, business rates and local transport and infrastructure are key election concerns, according to a survey of 120 businesses in Bankside.

Business managers and owners were asked to name their five main areas of concern for this election and how they thought the political parties were addressing them.

The survey was carried out by Better Bankside, the Bankside Business Improvement District (BID). Virtually all respondents agreed that business concerns like taxation were being sacrificed for contentious issues like immigration. It found that tax and business rates were named in the top five concerns by 22% of respondents, who claim that not enough is being done to ease the financial pressure on independent companies. 22% of respondents placed local services and transport in the top five. Regulation of businesses was also a worry, with 14% placing it in their list of key concerns: increases in red tape make it hard to run a successful business, employ locally and expand operations, according to business owners.

The overall state of the economy was one of the least-named concerns, with just 5.5% of respondents placing it in their top five. This may suggest that businesses are satisfied with Gordon Brown's overall handling of Britain's purse strings.

Areas of concern fell into 8 broad categories: economy; regulation; tax and business rates; crime and policing; local services, infrastructure and transport; area development and environment; employment; and national and European issues.

The impact of Thursday's election is being watched closely by Bankside's business managers. The overwhelming response from the survey is that there is a lot of talk and very little substance in each party's manifesto.

Peter Williams, executive director for Better Bankside, is not surprised by the findings. "I think that this reaction to the parties' manifestos is due, in part, to a stable economy pushing business support issues off the agenda.'

Mike Berry, managing director of advertising agency Spirit IC thinks that the election is being hijacked by media-friendly issues: "They are all concentrating on consumer issues for the media 'soundbites'." He says. "There is very little for business from any party."

Richard Waddington, CEO of international events company First Protocol thinks that it is "very difficult" to assess how the parties are addressing these issues. "The parties seem to be so similar in their manifestos so the differentiation is far less than it used to be. The focus and measurement is short term, so it's hard to persuade the voting public that the benefits put in now will be good for the country in 10-15 years."

Peter Williams continues: "The fact remains that the foundations of the economy are very much based in business communities, like here in Bankside. All over the country business owners are concerned about how the result of May 5th will affect their business and it's something that, according to our findings, political parties have singularly failed to address with any clarity."

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