The Institute of Directors recently listed the top eight election priorities for businesses.
Many of the issues on the list will come as no surprise and are regularly highlighted as matters of concern by IoD members. They include ensuring we have the right skills for an evolving economy, upgrading our infrastructure, reliable and affordable energy and early progress on a positive Brexit deal.
From a regional perspective, other issues caught my eye: turning start-ups into scale-ups, further developing entrepreneurial tax incentives and driving regional growth.
The imbalance in the UK economy should be viewed as an opportunity. It is a massive plus for the UK that it has a leading global city for insurance, trade, finance and professional services. The new government after the election on 8 June needs to set the conditions for economic growth in Yorkshire and the Humber, the wider Northern Powerhouse and other UK regions.
We should also be under no illusions that regional growth is a collegiate or collaborative exercise. The major cities and regions of the UK are in competition. Is our region winning that competition?
Following the elections of impressive individuals as metro mayors for Manchester and Birmingham, it's hard to escape the preliminary conclusion that, at what is still an early stage in the race, we are at best coming third.
In terms of clear channels of communication to central government, a single figurehead must be an advantage. Whilst the effective powers of new mayors outside of London are still at an embryonic stage, comparisons with similar leaders in the US would suggest that they can be instrumental in smoothing the way for major projects and reconciling competing local interests.
The government needs to set out a clearer framework for devolved government generally, including the mayoral role and that of the local enterprise partnerships. Whilst one size does not necessarily fit all – and our region likes to think it is a very special case – this framework needs to be spelled out for the nation's key regions so that they can stop discussing what it should look like and get on with doing it.
Returning to the point that we are in competition, the IoD is campaigning for an enhanced version of SEIS (Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme) tax relief to be trialled: in the North West.
SEIS, introduced in 2012, is the earlier stage counterpart of the longer established EIS and, because it relates to investments in younger and therefore higher risk businesses it qualifies for higher tax reliefs, including a set-off of 50% of the amount invested against income tax liabilities.
Well over a half of SEIS and EIS qualifying investment goes into high tech and business services companies. These are the kind of companies that, if successful and retained in the region, could rapidly make a major contribution to growing our economy.
In the most recent years for which statistics are available, over 65% of SEIS and EIS investment went into companies in the south east. Yorkshire and the Humber attracted less than half of the amount of investment that went into companies in the North West and the West Midlands. A mayor (or mayors) in our region could, amongst other things, be calling for these kind of tax incentives to be trialled here.
The competition is tough, but it needs to be because it is not just about being able to stand shoulder to shoulder with other UK regions, it is about being good enough on a global stage.
The new government is going to have a lot on its plate as it negotiates Brexit. Our region needs to work out how to get the time and attention it needs so that we have the foundations in place for the economic growth that will enable us to keep pace with our competitors at home and abroad.
- The IoD holds its prestigious Director of the Year Awards for Yorkshire and the North East on 5 July at the Principal York hotel. The special guests will be Stephen Martin, the new director general of the IoD, and Lord Nash, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Schools. To book, contact IoD Yorkshire
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Notes to editors
- The Institute of Directors (IoD) was founded in 1903 and obtained a Royal Charter in 1906. The IoD is a non-party political organisation with approximately 35,000 members in the United Kingdom and overseas. Membership includes directors from right across the business spectrum – from media to manufacturing, professional services to the public and voluntary sectors. Members include CEOs of large corporations as well as entrepreneurial directors of start-up companies.
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