Would the Lib Dems be good for London businesses?

As the Lib Dems gather for their annual conference here’s a quick reminder of the policies Clegg and Co would be implementing if they ran the country

It might seem like a far-off possibility at the moment, but what exactly would happen if Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats were voted in as a majority government? Would they be good for London and its business community?

The EU

Nick Clegg is bi-lingual in Dutch and speaks fluent Spanish, French and German - and his policies are as Europhile as his tongue. The former MEP has long advocated greater European integration, and his senior colleagues are uniformly supportive.

Which isn’t to say the Lib Dems would be a pushover on Brussels. Their manifesto pledges to end the “gold plating” of EU rules, “so that British businesses are not disadvantaged relative to their European competitors”.

But what about the Euro? Before the last election they were keen on eventually joining the Euro. But with the crises mounting daily it’s hard to say where the Lib Dems would stand now.

Here’s a clue - Danny Alexander gave an interview with the Evening Standard which came pretty close to a recantation: “I think there is no doubt at all that the flexibilities we have, not being part of the Euro, have been very helpful to the UK in dealing with the economic crisis we’ve had,” he said.

The banks and the City – taking the power out of London

Clegg and the Lib Dems have long claimed that our economy was far too dependent on the City during the previous government.

Their manifesto states: “They [Labour and Conservatives] have been obsessed by the ‘Square Mile’ instead of supporting all 100,000 square miles of Britain.”

Along with calling for the break-up of the banks the party has also suggested the introduction of regional stock exchanges. These would act as “regional platforms, matching local investors with growing small businesses to provide cost-effective access to equity.”

These regional stock exchanges will aim to help businesses access equity without the heavy regulatory system of the LSE. Britain used to have 22 bourses dotted across the country that were merged into the London Stock Exchange in 1973. The Lib Dems suggested the LSE was not serving the funding needs of smaller companies based outside London.

The Liberal Democrat leader said: “At the heart of our plans for economic change is a simple insight: we need to devolve and disperse economic power, particularly in the banking sector.”

Banker’s bonuses would no doubt face further scrutiny. One of Clegg’s bugbears is the ‘unjustified’ bonuses that banks pay their employees.

Vince Cable spent the early part of the year denigrating banks. Things have changed. He wrote recently in The Guardian:

“But now we have a ceasefire, and I have decided to decommission my stockpile of banker jokes and hide them in a hole in the country,” wrote.

“We still have plenty of weapons to deploy. And in less than nine months the government has done more to put banking right than 13 years of failed laissez faire under Labour. And our work is not yet done.”

On M&A the public interest test would be re-instated to strengthen the rules around takeovers.

Transport

A recent survey by CBI and KPMG revealed the pressing need for more infrastructures in the South East to help businesses grow and attract investment.

The Lib Dems by all accounts would not support more air and road infrastructure.  During the last election they vowed to block the third runway at Heathrow and any expansion of other airports in the South East.

They would switch freight traffic from road to rail by investing in rail improvement, paid for by cutting the roads budget.

It would be good news for rail commuters however, as the party is committed to ensuring rail fares rise below inflation and making Network Rail refund a third of passengers’ ticket price if they have to take a replacement bus service.

London’s cyclists would be able to hang their helmets in compulsory cycling facilities in office blocks.

The environment

The Lib Dems are dedicated to creating an economy based around “environmental sustainability”. They have expressed a desire for  a gradual switch from taxation on income and employment to taxation on pollution and resource depletion.

A Lib Dem majority would be great news for London’s clean-tech industry. Pre-election plans to redirect public spending into a “Green Stimulus” would no doubt go ahead if the Lib Dems came to power. They have previously suggested investing £3.1bn in green technology and creating an estimated 100,000 jobs.

The proposed increase in environmental taxes would hit certain industries hard. Those heavy on fossil fuel consuming activities could find themselves with even bigger bills and an unsympathetic government.

The Lib Dems have suggested setting up a UK Infrastructure Bank to channel private investment into green infrastructure.

They want to invest £400m in refurbishing shipyards in the North of England and Scotland so that they can manufacture offshore wind turbines and renewable energy equipment.

Interestingly, the manifesto states that as part of their scheme they promise to write off backdated business rates from before April 2008 for business in ports – this could be good news for the port of London.

Tax

Having proposed to raise the income tax allowance to £10,000, our lowest paid employees would be better off. (The current allowance is £8,105). Pensions would be reformed under the Lib Dems – they proposed giving a tax relief on pensions only at the basic rate.

Their manifesto suggests very strong opinions about tax avoidance and evasion – under them HM Revenue and Customs would receive more power to ensure properties can’t avoid stamp duty if they are put into an offshore trust.

Mr Cable wants a 0.5 per cent annual levy on the most expensive homes to raise £1bn to help low-paid workers. Local authorities would collect the new property tax which would cost 250,000 people an average of £4,000 a year.

“Some very wealthy people in very large houses avoid paying any tax at all on the transactions,” Alexander told the Evening Standard. “We need to find a way to deal with that.”

Those are the policies. So how would the UK look under the Lib Dems? Have your say below.

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