Lisa Forbes and John Bridge on Ed Miliband and big business

ed_miliband09:25 Tuesday 3rd February 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

PAUL STAINTON: Let’s get a recap of this story about Ed Miliband this morning from our political commentator Chris Moncrieff. Ed’s fallen out with business. Business leaders saying he’s a throwback to the ’70s. We’ve got Lord Rose having a go at him. Several other business leaders. In Cheshire the former boss of B&Q. Sir Nigel Rudd the Chairman of Heathrow. We had the guy running Boots yesterday. This all after Ed Miliband accused some businesses and their leaders of not paying their taxes. I mentioned Chris Moncrieff is with us, political commentator. Morning Chris.
PAUL STAINTON: Where’s all this come from?
CHRIS MONCRIEFF: Well it’s 93 days to go to the General Election and yet Miliband and the British industry’s leaders, captains of industry, seem to be already involved in a savage war of words. It emerged from nothing, with Boots boss having a go and saying that a Labour victory would be a catastrophe. And Ed Miliband hit back, saying well he lives in Monaco and he’s not paying his taxes. And other industrial leaders have fallen into line and come to the defence of the Boots man, saying this is an unfair personal attack, and that Miliband is playing the man, not the ball.
PAUL STAINTON: Well Lisa Forbes is with us as well. She’s Peterborough’s Prospective Labour Party candidate. Morning Lisa.
LISA FORBES: Morning Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: Playing the man, not the ball?
LISA FORBES: I don’t agree. I just think this goes to the heart of what’s fair and unfair. You and I Paul, we have to pay our taxes. If you’re a self employed person and you don’t pay your tax, then the full weight of the law will come down onto you. And I think people just don’t understand, at a time of austerity and we’re trying to cut the deficit,  that these companies are allowed to get away with paying billions in profits into the tax system in this country.
PAUL STAINTON: Well they do employ five, ten thousand people at a time, don’t they? I’m Mr Small Businessman. I don’t, do I?
LISA FORBES: No you don’t, but if we could create more jobs by getting this money in, we could invest in our infrastructure. We could invest in our NHS. We could pay people a living wage, and we could bring the deficit down fairly in that way. And I think that this is what this is about at the end of the day. It’s about fairness. It’s about people feeling that they’re struggling while companies are being allowed to get away with paying billions in tax.
PAUL STAINTON: Well representing the interest of businesses across Cambridgeshire and the Chief Executive of the Cambridgeshire Chamber of Commerce, John Bridge. John, morning.
JOHN BRIDGE: Yes good morning Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: Welcome to the spat. Welcome to the fall-out? This is not good. A prospective Prime Minister falling out with just about every head of business there is.

JOHN BRIDGE: No I think that the difficulty is that people are getting a little emotional rather than trying to keep it factual. And there’s a lot of posturing going on from a political point of view. The key thing is that when we look at business, what everybody has to understand is that it is the only way that we create wealth, having businesses actually doing what they do well, and actually employing the people and creating obviously the margins they then pay taxes on.
PAUL STAINTON: But there’s many people out there agreeing with Lisa Forbes this morning that the businesses are getting away with it. They’re not paying their taxes. You look at Starbucks et al, and they’ve been accused of not paying enough tax. They make billions in profit. They should be chipping up a load more in tax.
JOHN BRIDGE: The key thing is Paul that all of them operate quite legitimately, and if the rules are there, they operate within them. We certainly don’t condone anybody doing anything which is not correct and illegal. But what we have to understand, the directors of businesses, all businesses, big, small or medium sized, have a duty to ensure that they do the best in the interests of their shareholders. And clearly the businesses are not going to pay more taxes than they need to, nor are individuals, as well (long) as they do it legitimately within the rules that are available.
LISA FORBES: I think it’s what the Government needs to be doing in the best interests of the ordinary everyday person, the tax payer. And actually to be fair, there are small and large companies who are doing the right thing, and they’re paying their taxes in this country.
PAUL STAINTON: Well the big companies are doing the right thing. They’re within the law.
LISA FORBES: They’re actually put at a disadvantage by these big companies that have decided that they’re not going to play by the rules, and that they’re going to try and shift their profits to different countries where they can actually pay lower corporation tax.
PAUL STAINTON: What did you do about it when you were in Government?
LISA FORBES: I think that times have changed. I wasn’t in Government.
PAUL STAINTON: The Labour Party was.
LISA FORBES: The Labour Party were in Government, but at the time of austerity, when people are being asked to pay the bedroom tax, things like that, that’s unfair, when these companies are getting away with paying billions in profit. And I think the time has changed. We need to bring the deficit down in a fair way, by asking those with the broadest shoulders to take more of the burden. It’s only fair that big business are asked to pay the tax that they actually owe.
PAUL STAINTON: Chris you could look upon this as just political posturing, but there’s a more serious side, isn’t there? Because if Ed Miliband is Prime Minister on May 8th, on the morning of, he’s got to get on with these people, hasn’t he?
CHRIS MONCRIEFF: Well absolutely right. This situation is quite I think serious for him, because he should not be indulging in this war of words with the industrial leaders. He should really let it go over his head, in my opinion. But I think he’s making problems for himself. But the fact remains that if there are flaws and loopholes in the tax system, that’s not the fault of big business or small business. It’s the fault of the people who draft these laws, and it’s up to them to tighten the rules if they think that people are getting away with it. If there are loopholes then they should be closed, but otherwise it’s quite legitimate to pay no more tax than you absolutely have to.
PAUL STAINTON: John, does this show a naivety in Ed Miliband?
JOHN BRIDGE: I think it shows that really what someone is trying to do is play to an audience and get emotional about something, rather than factual. And he knows full well that the real driver to ensure our economy remains to increase the way that it has, is to ensure that there’s a good relationship with business, to provide the kind of policies which will allow business to do what they do best, which is actually to make profits, drive the economy forward, and then provide the money through the wealth creation for all the other things that we need, and in particular to make sure we’ve got the money to look after those that are less fortunate than themselves. But that all stems from business, and there seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding that they are the root actual creators of that wealth.
PAUL STAINTON: Lisa, he’s creating problems for himself here isn’t he? A naivety that is coming through. Is this desperation do you think from him?
LISA FORBES: Well I think that is quite naive to think that the profit that these companies have been making is actually trickling down to people. It’s not. I think that the way that we get fairness in this country, the way that we lift people out of poverty, is that businesses do pay their taxes, and we can invest the money that we get from those taxes into creating jobs and bringing the deficit down that way, by investing in infrastructure, or putting the money into the NHS, which is at crisis point at the moment.
PAUL STAINTON: He’s got to repair this fracture though with big business, hasn’t he?
LISA FORBES: I think what we need to do is I agree that where there are tax loopholes, in Europe we need to find consensus in Europe, to close the loopholes and make it so that people actually pay the tax in the company (country) where they make their profit. So there’s certainly a lot to do in Europe to find a consensus as to the way forward, but I’m sure that Ed Miliband’s not alone. I think we’ve heard President Obama recently talking about closing tax loopholes and making companies pay their fair share of wealth.
PAUL STAINTON: There is this argument isn’t there Chris, that these big companies are avoiding. They’re trading here. Their company profits and accounts are held somewhere else, and there were various demonstrations against the big companies a year or so ago. That argument is out there, isn’t it Chris.
CHRIS MONCRIEFF: Oh absolutely. Yes. I’m not surprised about that. But as I may repeat myself, it’s up to the people who draft these bills not to make a shoddy mess of them, but to make them watertight. And they’ve only got themselves to blame if the accountants start clawing over them and finding loopholes here and there. So really I think big business as we’ve heard is entitled to pay as much tax as it has to, and quite frankly no more.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. Does this have a knock-on for businesses in Cambridgeshire John Bridge? Can you trust Ed Miliband if he becomes Prime Minister?
JOHN BRIDGE: I think it’s very clear that people want to understand the policies that are there, and that actually what they will do is give the incentive to business to want to invest and to continue to grow and develop. And clearly what we don’t want is what this seems is a witchhunt towards businesses, in an emotional way, to try and gain some political points. What we want is a real solid debate about the issues, and how he, and any government that comes in, can actually support business and enable the economy to grow.
PAUL STAINTON: A few comments from you. Paul from Peterborough says, “They’re all as bad as each other. Cameron said if he gets elected he’ll give money to schools, the police, the NHS. Why doesn’t he do it now?“Jethro our Milko says “Miliband will be booted out after the General Election. Even Ed Balls is running out of patience with him.” And David Harding says, ” Real job. He’s joking if he thinks lecturing to a bunch of well-heeled Yanks and running around after Gordon Brown are jobs. He had a privileged upbringing did Ed Miliband, as the son of a famous academic. Has no idea about business or real people. But neither have the rest.” Is that a fair point? He was asked yesterday, wasn’t he Lisa Forbes, what job he’d had outside politics, and he said I worked for the Treasury. That’s naivety right there, isn’t it?
LISA FORBES: Yes, well I don’t know what jobs Ed did before getting into politics.
PAUL STAINTON: That’s it I think. He didn’t have one.
LISA FORBES: I do know that he went to a comprehensive school in London. So did I. I don’t really know what the point is there.
PAUL STAINTON: Well just the point that he couldn’t name a job that he’d done that wasn’t in politics. And many people want real people elected, don ‘t they? That’s the key.
LISA FORBES: Well I would agree that people want real people in politics. It’s why I’m standing. I’m a local mum from Peterborough that’s struggling to get by like everybody else is. But I don’t see what the point is about Ed Miliband, because he’s actually saying the things that the people on the streets, the people on the doorsteps that I speak to are saying to me. They feel that it’s unfair that they’re being asked to pay more when they can see these huge disparities in companies paying their taxes. It just seems unfair to people. So to me it’s not an emotional argument. It’s an argument based on fairness.
PAUL STAINTON: Your thoughts this morning. Is Ed Miliband speaking for you when he attacks big business for not paying their taxes, and not doing enough for the economy? That was Lisa Forbes, Peterborough’s Prospective Labour Party candidate. John Bridge, Chief Executive of the Cambridgeshire Chamber of Commerce. You could hear in his voice he was slightly aghast at this incredible attack that Ed Miliband has launched on big business. And Chris Moncrieff, political commentator putting it all in context this morning.