09:23 Tuesday 10th February 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
PAUL STAINTON: When was the last time you had a payrise? Well never fear, because DC David Cameron is urging business leaders today to give their staff payrises. He will say that economic conditions have not been this good for such a long time. Well with us this morning to discuss what David Cameron has had to say about this is Darren Fower, LibDem Parliamentary candidate for Peterborough. Morning sir.
DARREN FOWER: Good morning Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: We’ve got Daniel Zeichner with us as well. He’s the Labour Parliamentary candidate for Cambridge. Morning Daniel.
DANIEL ZEICHNER: Morning Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: And Vicky Ford, who’s the Conservative MEP for the East of England. Morning Vicky.
VICKY FORD: Morning.
PAUL STAINTON: He’s set the cat among the pigeons hasn’t he, DC this morning? We’re all going to get a payrise. I’m looking forward to it Vicky.
VICKY FORD: Oh well, it is the case that we are now the fastest growing economy in the Western world, and that’s all due to the Long Term Economic Plan working. And I think people would like to see pay rise, and this is the Prime Minister encouraging businesses to realise that the situation is looking better than it’s done for a while. And if they can afford to, let’s put some of that money back in people’s pockets.
PAUL STAINTON: Is he going to lead by example and put pensions up for pensioners,. give them a payrise?
VICKY FORD: This is looking at the private sector, not the public sector.
PAUL STAINTON: Oh right.
VICKY FORD: Because of course the public sector, you know, we still need to keep working on this debt and deficit, and correcting that mess that we were left behind by the last Government. So this is saying to the private sector, to businesses, growth is coming. They’ve done a good job. We’ve got two million more new jobs created by businesses. We’ve obviously given people a tax cut. 27 million people have benefited for that tax cut. That’s at the lowest end of pay.
PAUL STAINTON: But if things are so good Vicky, why doesn’t he practice what he preaches?
VICKY FORD: Well he is saying now it’s time for the private sector to also deliver on giving benefits. He has practiced what he’s preaching in that he has put the money through his low taxes into 27 million pockets. So your pay slip is looking better at the bottom line. But he’d like the businesses to start making it look better at the top line.
PAUL STAINTON: Good news Daniel, isn’t it, that the economy is doing so well? Good news that we can all afford as a small business, medium business, to give our employees a payrise apparently.
DANIEL ZEICHNER: Well the hypocrisy is just breathtaking, isn’t it? Cameron is the boss of millions of workers in this country, National Health Service workers for instance. And has he even followed the advice of his own independent pay review body? Not at all. So what he’s doing is he’s ambling out of his champagne reception from last night, wandering along to the Chambers of Commerce, and just basically saying to Britain’s hard working business leaders, you should do it. I’m not prepared to do it. And don’t forget that people are now something like £1600 a year worse off. This is going to be the first time that people have gone into a General Election worse off than at the last election. We’ve got 1.4 million people on zero-hours contracts. Frankly Cameron is not going to deliver on any of this. It’s just a pre-election speech, and I hope people will see through it.
PAUL STAINTON: We’ve spoken to the Chairman of Cambridgeshire’s Chamber of Commerce, John Bridge. He can’t come on this morning because he’s actually at the conference and just taking his seat. But he says he’d “prefer the Government to keep their opinions to themselves and focus on bringing in investment and developing growth. many businesses can’t afford pay rises at this time, so to recommend them isn’t very wise.” Darren Fower, where’s the LibDems? Stop him. I thought that was what you were doing. You were reining him in.
DARREN FOWER: Well I think we have reined the Conservatives in on several issues. This latest piece of news, as has been mentioned there, is obviously some electioneering. There is an element of hypocrisy. The bottom line is that it’s one thing to give advice to the private sector, but obviously as the gentleman just mentioned, Mr Cameron is the boss of millions of members who work in the public sector. So it’s important that you lead by example, and if there is this concept, this fiscal idea that it’s good for the economy, then I think he should be leading by example. But I think as you just mentioned there, John Bridge of the Chamber has mentioned and made it very clear it’s probably best is Mr Cameron keeps such views to himself.
PAUL STAINTON: He’s a hypocrite Vicky is what has been said this morning.
VICKY FORD: What he is saying is that if you can afford to give your employees a pay rise, because more money is coming to your business, then the economy is now growing. It’s growing at the best for seven years. It’s the fastest growing in the Western world. If you can afford to give your employees a pay rise, then this is a good time to do so. As regards the public sector workers, clearly we’re still trying to mend this huge deficit that we were given by the last Government. So it is not hypocrisy at all, because he’s saying while you’ve got the money, please businesses do pay it on. Now he’s not ordering every business to do that. But he’s saying if you can, then do so. I completely agree with John Bridge as well that we need to be investing in infrastructure, which is what this economy is doing under the Long Term Economic Plan.
PAUL STAINTON: What have you built? Sorry, what have you built?
VICKY FORD: New skills.
PAUL STAINTON: What have you built in the last five years?
VICKY FORD: When did you last travel up towards Norwich and go out of Cambridge along the A11? That’s coming on great. And we’ve got some work going on the A14 too. We’ve got investment …
PAUL STAINTON: No no no. Hold on Vicky. Whoah. Hold on. Hold on. (SPEAKER HALTS) We’ve not built the A14 yet. We have improved the A11. So that’s one thing. But the A14’s not built. What have you built in the last five years? You said you’d improved infrastructure. Where?
VICKY FORD: Well you’ve improved infrastructure on one of the key roads going east-west, which is the A11.
PAUL STAINTON: One road. Yes.
VICKY FORD: And as you’ve seen, the work has already started around the Girton area. OK? And that’s good. And that investment is coming in. You come over to my side of the city you see the money that’s going in the Southern side and the bicycle links that are going through, the City Plan money that’s coming into Cambridge. This is good. Investing in our railway lines to get freight off the A14. You know Paul that’s a huge project.
PAUL STAINTON: How many of those have you built?
VICKY FORD: What have we done? We’ve upgraded the entire east-west railway line, so now more freight goes by rail east-west than any other freight port in Europe. That’s getting those trucks off the A14. That’s happened under this Government, and never happened under the previous one.
PAUL STAINTON: I haven’t noticed those trucks disappearing to be honest with you.
DANIEL ZEICHNER: There’s a wider economic argument here than just this, and I have to say an awful lot of this infrastructure improvement of course, the projects were actually initiated under the last Government. There’s not much point in arguing about that. The problem is we’ve got a low pay economy, and that’s why the Government has failed to tackle the deficit. because if people aren’t earning enough, they don’t pay enough in taxes. And it’s the basic economic model that’s wrong here. And although Cameron has made an election speech today, I think it’s actually worthy of deeper debate. We can’t go on in a society where the gap between people at the top and the rest of us just keeps on accelerating in the way that it’s been. It’s a complicated problem. It goes beyond the short term political debate. But we need a substantial change in the way our economy works. People are really really struggling, and at the moment there’s no pressure to push wages up. That’s why Labour is looking at things like increasing the Minimum Wage, moving to a Living Wage, and using things like pay transparency to actually put pressure on companies.
PAUL STAINTON: But you’re not going to admit that the economy is doing well, are you? You’re not going to admit that people can afford to give pay rises out, because that’s bad news for Ed Miliband ahead of the election. You wouldn’t say if that was the case, would you?
DANIEL ZEICHNER: Sorry I missed the question. Sorry.
PAUL STAINTON: You wouldn’t say that the economy was doing well even if it was, would you? Because it would be bad for you coming up to the election.
DANIEL ZEICHNER: Clearly the economy is doing better than it was for the first three or four years of this parliament. Our view is that there’s no need to have those three or four years where we went backwards. We’re just beginning to catch up to where we were in 2008. And there are some big decisions to be taken going ahead as to how we use this situation. But just going and saying to a few business leaders, oh it would be nice if you paid your staff a bit more isn’t nearly enough. Most of them are not going to do that, and we actually need a change in the way our economic model works. And that’s what Ed Miliband is talking about and offering people in the future. So there’s a much more profound point here.
PAUL STAINTON: Darren, have you and your Tory chums created the wrong sort of economy? Are people not earning the right wages? They may be in jobs but they can’t afford to buy anything.
DARREN FOWER: I think on the grand scale there are concerns about some levels of employment. But again if we look at somewhere like Peterborough, which is the area that I am involved with, the City Council have said that they will be looking to introduce the Living Wage. Now that is something that I believe in. I think it should happen. But obviously it’s important that the City Council, which is a public service etcetera, should lead by example.
PAUL STAINTON: You support the Living Wage across the board.
DARREN FOWER: I absolutely do.
PAUL STAINTON: Does your party as a party?
DARREN FOWER: The Party hasn’t got a specific policy on it. I’ll be honest with you.
PAUL STAINTON: Sounds familiar Darren.
DARREN FOWER: But at the end of the day we haven’t got a policy on everything. But we have got some very good policies. For example when we talk about the economy, it’s definitely not just about how much someone gets paid. Because the bottom line is if you’re paying large amounts of tax on your food and on your fuel etcetera it can disappear very quickly.
PAUL STAINTON: Did you get it wrong? Robbie in Cambridge agrees with Daniel. He says, ” This is all about Cameron saying I’ve got it wrong, realising that the middle classes and downwards are struggling. My wife is a teacher ” says Robbie, ” Hasn’t had a pay rise in two years. before that she received a 1% pay rise.” So she is a lot worse off.
DARREN FOWER: Well I think from the Liberal Democrat perspective we have obviously introduced things like the Pupil Premium and the free school meals. We’ve raised the basic rate of tax, and that is making sure that the people at the bottom get the most support. Our policy on principle across the board is very much about making sure that those with the broadest shoulders carry the most weight. Now there’s still a lot of work to do, and obviously the Long Term Economic Plan is something that we need to keep to. And the Liberal Democrats have kept the Conservatives from making further cuts into public services, because that’s obviously what they w ant to do themselves, in the long term. And Labour, they want to borrow more money. So I think from a Liberal Democrat perspective we’re taking the middle ground, and we’re fighting for those people who need to be represented, and perhaps don’t normally have a voice.
PAUL STAINTON: Vicky, Simon in March says, “David Cameron is nothing more than a copycat. Labour have been calling for a Living Wage for years now, so with an election round the corner, here we go, David has followed suit.” Not impressed.
VICKY FORD: Let’s remember where we are and where we’ve come from. Labour left this country in the deepest recession since the war.
DANIEL ZEICHNER: It was the financial sector actually Vicky, but never mind.
VICKY FORD: Labour ..
DANIEL ZEICHNER: Which you were part of.
VICKY FORD: .. left the country in the deepest recession since ..
DANIEL ZEICHNER: We saved the banks. We had to step in because of your lot.
VICKY FORD: Under your .. your many many years of government.
DANIEL ZEICHNER: It’s like blaming the police for the Great Train Robbery Vicky.
PAUL STAINTON: Well that’s fair enough isn’t it Daniel? You were in charge.
DANIEL ZEICHNER: We were, but we didn’t realise what these people were up to. Even today, with HSBC ..
PAUL STAINTON: We’ve had this argument before to be fair. But let’s be honest. The regulation was atrocious, wasn’t it? And that allowed the bankers and the banks to do what they wanted to do. I think that’s pretty much agreed.
DANIEL ZEICHNER: The Tories at the time were saying we should deregulate further.
PAUL STAINTON: Mind you, saying that, the Conservatives haven’t really done much in the last five years, have they?
VICKY FORD: So where we are now is that we have now turned this economy round. It’s been very very hard. But it is now the fastest growing economy in the west. We’ve cut tax. Tax is down. Tax is down for the lowest earners. 25 million people with £750 in their pockets every year.
DANIEL ZEICHNER: VAT down? VAT up as ever of course.
VICKY FORD: Petrol prices have .. fuel prices have come down.
PAUL STAINTON: Ok ok let’s not get into electioneering. Is it time for a pay rise now? Is it time for a pay rise Vicky?
VICKY FORD: If companies can afford that pay rise, let’s start putting that money back in people’s pockets so there is a bit more sharing this money. And that is what the Prime Minister is saying today.
PAUL STAINTON: Is now the time for a pay rise Daniel Zeichner?
DANIEL ZEICHNER: It’s long overdue.
PAUL STAINTON: Darren.
DARREN FOWER: Yes. Obviously the Government would lead by example, and when they’ve sorted out their own backyard, then they can look over their neighbour’s fence.
PAUL STAINTON: Thank you for coming in guys this morning. Really interesting. Darren Fower,the LibDem Parliamentary candidate for Peterborough. We heard from Daniel Zeichner, who’s the Labour Parliamentary candidate for Cambridge. And Vicky Ford, the Conservative MEP for the East of England.