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The real enemies of enterprise

I’ll be the first to admit that in the past I’ve enjoyed a bit of local authority officer bashing through my New Start column.  Luckily for me they still invite me to their parties and regard what I say as a load of old tripe. However, I was horrified to discover that I’ve been fraternising with the enemies of enterprise.

In his recent speech to the Welsh Conservative party conference, David Cameron made it very clear who’s preventing this country from economic recovery; its government regulators, town hall planners and local authority procurement officers. Admittedly the ones I was drinking with earlier this week had sipped a few small sherries, but they were firmly of the belief that all their paper shuffling was done only to achieve the policies created by democratically elected local and national politicians. Their feelings were very hurt, believe me.

How come he’s not blaming the banks for crippling the economy and refusing to lend to businesses, they asked.  Why is he not blaming huge supermarkets for obliterating small traders, they wondered.  What happened to Vince Cable’s war on Murdoch to save independent media in this country, they pondered.  Which general got out the big hoe thing and shoved all the civil servants behind enemy lines?

In Bristol we’ve just had a very good example of how powerful town hall planners are in the war against business development.  Sainsbury’s want to build the largest supermarket in the south west at Bristol City’s ground Ashton Gate. Last year they submitted an application and planning officers recommended approval; councillors on the planning committee turned it down.

A couple of weeks ago Sainsbury’s resubmitted their plans and, after a retail impact study, planners recommended it should be refused; councillors approved it.  So the enemies of enterprise don’t have much power at all, in fact nobody seems to take a blind bit of notice of them. I would suggest that the power lies with whoever decided to replace five of the councillors who refused the first application with five who turned out to have a different opinion.

The war should be against those who are destroying British businesses, for example Kraft Food’s hostile takeover of Cadbury’s during which they promised to protect 400 jobs in Bristol, then days after sealing the deal announced they were closing the factory.  Their chief exec is a true enemy of enterprise, but she just plain refuses to answer to the government’s Business Select Committee, which constitutes Contempt of Parliament (still a criminal offence, so watch what you’re saying and remember walls have ears) but which you can blithely get away with if you happen to run a huge American conglomerate that’s just wiped out a British company.

As my evening with the enemies of enterprise wore on and the sherries grew larger, we began to understand that civil servants are Cameron’s tribute to Thatcher: they are the new enemy within.  Just as we are destined to parent in the way we were parented, so he is replicating the legacy of his ideological mother.  Let’s hope he doesn’t have her balls.

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