09:22 Wednesday 1st April 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
PAUL HAWKINS: Are we better off now than we were five years ago? Have things started to head in the right direction for you? This morning, you may have seen it in the Daily Telegraph, hundreds of business leaders in the UK have written an open letter praising the current Conservative-led government for their economic strategy over the last five years. The letter claims the Conservative strategies have in their words ‘supported investment and job creation.’ Some of those who have signed the letter include Dragon’s Den star Duncan Ballantyne along with top bosses from BP Oil, TopShop and Carphone warehouse. Meanwhile, Labour Leader Ed Miliband is expected to launch a tougher stance on zero hours contracts today if he were to be successful in May. Workers on the contracts will be able to demand a regular contract after twelve weeks under Labour’s new proposals. But with all this talk about big business and working contracts, do we really feel any better off? Would you say you were in a better or a worse place five years on from our latest change in government? And with so many different battlegrounds being created in this election already, are you starting to feel overlooked? Let’s speak to Heidi Allen. She’s running for the Conservatives in South Cambridgeshire. Good morning to you Heidi.
HEIDI ALLEN: Good morning.
PAUL HAWKINS: And Ken Rustidge. Good morning to you Ken.
KEN RUSTIDGE: Yes good morning.
PAUL HAWINS: Ken is the Labour candidate for the North East of our county. Let’s start with you Heidi then. This economic recovery, this letter from big business, but are people feeling it?
HEIDI ALLEN: Well I think it still probably depends on what part of the country you’re talking about. Overall, yes. certainly the part of the country I hope to represent, South Cambridgeshire, as most people will be aware is almost an economic miracle. But it’s not the same everywhere, and I can’t pretend that it is. Is it starting to filter down? Yes. 1.85 million jobs have been created since 2010, and I know there’s some debate about what type of jobs they are, but that’s good news. People are getting into work, and that has to be the solution for everybody. So I think very slowly, yes, we are starting to turn the big tanker ship that is the economy, and we’re getting there. And it’s great news.
PAUL HAWKINS: But your party is perceived as being the party of big business. That’s the general perception. Do you think it helps your cause when you say you’re championing the worker, when a letter like this is published?
HEIDI ALLEN: Well I think there’s a couple of things there. One, those big businesses do employ people, so they are the workers. But also it’s not just big business. The Conservatives are the party of small as well. Up until my selection I’d been running a small business. We only employ nine people. And I remember a couple of years ago when we got the national insurance cut of £2000, that made a tremendous difference to our business, and took a third of all employers out of national insurance altogether, about half a million businesses. So I think it’s wrong to suggest that we’re just the party of the big. And I know why the media .. you know it’s easy to portray us as that. But it’s not the case at all. We do .. our policies do affect small businesses just the same.
PAUL HAWKINS: Yes. Ken Rustidge, Labour candidate for the North East of our county. This isn’t good news for you, this letter this morning, is it? Because some of these big business leaders they used to be Labour supporters, people like Duncan Ballantyne.
KEN RUSTIDGE: Yes indeed. But I concur with Chuka Umanna who said he’s very relaxed about what has been said. Certainly under Labour the tax burden on small businesses will be much lower than under the Tories. Labour’s first budget will actually cut business rates for 1.5 million small business properties and freeze them the following year. Yesterday I was talking to small businesses in March, and people were very worried about the tax burden and said, what can you do? And Labour’s got a better plan for small businesses which will help many small businesses, certainly in North East Cambridgeshire, which includes action to tackle late payment, and reducing unnecessary regulation, and establishing a British investment bank to boost lending to small firms. So Labour has got lots of ideas to help small businesses. And I am aware that traditionally big businesses are supporters and on the side of the Tory Party.
PAUL HAWKINS: Would you credit this Government then with at least managing the economy in such a way that there are more jobs and it is growing?
KEN RUSTIDGE: Well as has just been said by the earlier caller, in certain areas yes. There certainly is a north/south divide and I think there’s a north/south divide in Cambridgeshire. Certainly in my area in Fenland there’s not much recovery at all and lots of people suffering, certainly with the zero hours contracts and low wages. I think it’s the many small businesses. But this idea of trickle down, giving tax cuts to millionaires, I don’t think it works. I think we would have been better off with Labour’s plans in the past. But we are where we are.
PAUL HAWKINS: Yes. Is cracking down on these zero hours contracts really going to make much of a difference though? It’s only 2% of the workforce.
KEN RUSTIDGE: Well I don’t really accept that. Certainly when I talk to people locally in North East Cambridgeshire there are many people who would say they are suffering about that. Many people say they’re working one day. They might have to come in to a factory one day and then the next day they don’t call them. And they’re really suffering. I think it would be a far fairer system. And the size of that, there was a comment on BBC Radio 4 this morning about that, questioning that figure of saying 2%. Certainly locally there’s lots of people said that. So I would say from my own opinion Paul locally it’s certainly much higher than that.
PAUL HAWKINS: Yes. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, they say the average number of hours worked for someone on a zero hours contract is twenty five. People on these contracts most likely to be women in full time education working part-time. And those groups are most likely to value flexibility in the workplace. There is a role for zero hours contracts, isn’t there?
KEN RUSTIDGE: Well you just spoke about one specific group. I am aware of that. There are many for example in effect a zero hours contact would be a supply teacher. But they’re here one day gone tomorrow. People would actually prefer something more permanent, ie you get a part-time contract, say that you work two and a half days a week, something that you can fix things in. If you’re not sure if you’re going to be working tomorrow it’s much more difficult to organise your life. So I don’t accept that at all, and I certainly don’t accept that for women. What about childcare issues?
PAUL HAWKINS: So you’re querying the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s figures?
KEN RUSTIDGE: No. I’m querying that specific example that you gave. You talked about women doing that, so I gave you an example of supply teachers who are in effect in the same position, high zero hours contract in effect.
PAUL HAWKINS: Heidi Allen, Conservative candidate for South Cambridgeshire. The number of food banks has risen considerably under this Government. So how do you feel about that?
HEIDI ALLEN: Well nobody would pretend that it’s been easy. The last few years have been exceptionally difficult. And, you know, we have to get things better, and we have to continue with this economic recovery so that it is for everybody and everybody feels the benefit of it. And food banks are just one element of that. But the core to it .. and I don’t dismiss it because I can’t imagine it. I’m fortunate. I’ve never been in that position myself. I can’t imagine how desperate you must feel if that’s the only place left to go. But the way out of that .. And I know everybody’s bored I’m sure of this phrase, long term economic plan.
PAUL HAWKINS: Yes.
HEIDI ALLEN: (LAUGHS) I’m getting sick of it myself.
PAUL HAWKINS: I’m speaking for most people. Yes.
HEIDI ALLEN: I think they’re playing bingo with it in the House of Commons now. But that has to be the fix. Jobs, economic prosperity, finally in the last few months seeing the cost of living starting to drop and people are starting to feel better off in their pockets. That has to be the solution, because if you’re employed you can look after yourself and your family. And it’s slow. The state of the economy in 2010, that wasn’t going to happen overnight. And I’m sure there were things that maybe we could have done better. But when I look at the Coalition, as a partnership which we have been, we have done extremely well, and you won’t ever hear me knocking the LibDems. That’s not my style. I think we’re getting there, but it is slow.
PAUL HAWKINS: You say you’re getting there. It’s too slow, isn’t it, effectively? Living standards are now back at where they were in May 2010, and they weren’t great then.
HEIDI ALLEN: So I think either you could argue yes all right, does that say something about the pace of improvements. I think it also says something about the state of the economy as it was, and just how difficult it was to turn around. But no, we are getting there. On the subject of zero hours contracts, I know you were giving Ken a hard time over that. I think there is a place for zero hours contracts, but it’s when there is a choice. Where it’s absolutely wrong is when people are held to ransom. In a growing economy, give people choice, because there’s more than one job out there that they can go for. And that’s what we’re starting to find. My little company, we’ve just taken on somebody new this week, because business is out there.
PAUL HAWKINS: On a zero hours contract?
HEIDI ALLEN: No no. Not on a zero hours contract.
PAUL HAWKINS: Would you employ someone on a zero hours contract?
HEIDI ALLEN: It wouldn’t work for our business. I think our business is too small. So we might take somebody on for part-time, just for a few months for example. But we’d give them .. we know our business very well. We know where our peaks are. So we could be very clear about when we would need somebody. But not all businesses are like that. And I think zero hours contracts have to work for both sides. And this idea that the Conservatives only look after business and not the workers is wrong, because a successful economy is when employment works for both sides. Employers need employees and vice versa. So I think there is a role for it, but not, absolutely not when it’s holding people to ransom. And that’s what we’ve seen examples of, and that absolutely has to change.
PAUL HAWKINS: Because then people have no security. They don’t know when money’s coming in. And that’s when you get back to this issue of food banks etcetera, because people can’t plan their budgets every month. And that’s a desperate situation to be in. But a recovering economy gives people choice, and that’s what we’re starting to see more and more of. I get less applications for jobs now when we hire people. Four years ago I was literally getting hundreds within minutes of jobs being advertised. Now they’re trickling through at a more regular pace. And that tells me that people are having a choice out there, which is great news.
PAUL HAWKINS: Yes. Do you think Ken that Labour’s message about the cost of living, do you think it’s losing its oomph now? Low interest rates, low inflation, and it’s a very small increase in the standard of living, but it is an increase none the less. Do you think that this message is going to be lost on the electorate now?
KEN RUSTIDGE: No I don’t feel it is. You’ve got to look back over the last five years, and certainly the independent Institute of Fiscal Studies have said that since 2010 it has cost households an average of £1100 a year. So I think it very much depends on where you are. I feel certainly, talking specifically at small businesses, that Labour would lower the tax burden on small businesses and cut business rates worth an average of £400 a year, rather than going ahead with another cut in corporation tax for the larger firms. And when you take this in the context that the Tories have given millionaires tax cuts, you’ve got to understand that there is a difference in the choice. And going back over what the Conservatives have done, I remember going back to 2010 Labour had different policies at that time.. It’s very hypothetical to say where we would have been. I would argue we probably would have been in a better place.
PAUL HAWKINS: Really?
HEIDI ALLEN: Can I just come in there?
PAUL HAWKINS: Yes.
HEIDI ALLEN: This issue about corporation tax and that the tax breaks are just for large companies. It’s just so wrong. Any company that’s limited, a little plumbers merchants Fred and Son can be limited. Corporation tax affects small businesses. It affects my business too. So I see in my little world, my corporation tax coming down at one end. i see my employees being lifted out of income tax at the bottom end. So people are feeling the benefit in both places. So it’s absolutely wrong to say that corporation tax .. I think it’s the word ‘corporation’ sounds like a large thing. It’s not. Any business that’s limited, and that can be a two man company, is affected by a drop in corporation tax. And also on the business rates, local county councils .. and it’s not terribly well publicised ..but county councils have the ability to tweak business rates if they want to.
PAUL HAWKINS: OK.
HEIDI ALLEN: If county councils start getting a bit more imaginative they can control that.
PAUL HAWKINS: OK Heidi. Ken just quickly come back on that.
KEN RUSTIDGE: Yes indeed. If I could just come back in there please Heidi. Yes, but in comparison Labour’s plans will benefit seventeen small businesses, properties, for every one business helped by the Tory plan for a further cut in this corporation tax. And Labour will look even further, as we’re prioritising small businesses for future tax cuts.
PAUL HAWKINS: All right. I think we’ll have to leave it there Ken. .. Good to talk to you. Thank you.
KEN RUSTIDGE: Thank you very much.
PAUL HAWKINS: That’s Ken Rustidge, the Labour candidate for the North East of our county. Good to talk to you this morning Heidi.
HEIDI ALLEN: Thank you.
PAUL HAWKINS: That’s Heidi Allen the Conservative candidate for South Cambridgeshire.