Next UK PM faces long wish list from CEOs

Gauging expectations: Sunak meets with veterans at a community breakfast in Northallerton. Sunak and Labour Party leader Starmer are fighting to convince the business world they are the right person to run the country. — Reuters

LONDON: In the 1990s, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s New Labour courted UK business in efforts that became known as the “prawn cocktail offensive” – a reference to the seafood appetiser that in times gone by was known for featuring at posh lunches.

In recent months, the current Labour Party leader Keir Starmer has revived the charm offensive, a move that has irked those on the left of the party. This time, it has been dubbed the “smoked salmon and scrambled eggs offensive,” with Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves enjoying a series of CEO breakfasts.

With a general election now set for July 4, the Conservative prime minister, Rishi Sunak, and Starmer are fighting to convince the business world they are the right person to run the country.

As both leaders race to put the finishing touches on their manifestos, we spoke to the bosses of seven UK companies spanning pubs and housebuilding about what they want from the country’s next premier.

> Steven Fine, Peel Hunt

The investment bank’s chief executive officer wants the next government to push through reforms to London’s equity market, which he called “the engine room for our entire economy.” London has seen a number of companies quit the stock market in recent months, blaming low valuations and a lack of liquidity.

Fine said he hopes the government’s Mansion House reforms – measures announced last year to boost investment in UK assets but which are now up in the air – are finalised.

“It’s crucial that the next government follows through and builds on the Mansion House commitments to encourage pension capital into high-growth businesses and small and mid-cap listed companies,” Fine said.

He’s also a champion of the UK Individual Savings Accounts to encourage domestic investment, and supports plans to require pension funds to disclose their investment in British companies. “You can’t have a strong economy without a thriving domestic market,” he added.

> Martin Sorrell, S4 Capital

Workers’ rights reforms proposed by deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner are “the thing that worries business big time,” the founder and executive chairman of advertising company S4 Capital Plc said in a telephone interview, calling them Labour’s “Achilles heel.”

“We need a plan,” Sorrell added, noting the need to reduce uncertainty. “I think the main concern for business is whether they are going to do what they say.” He also called for solutions to low productivity in the UK.

> John Roberts, AO World

The founder and chief executive of the electrical goods retailer stressed the “urgent” need to reform the Apprenticeship Levy to help business and support young people in the UK.

“Reform the levy, get the right people and organisations involved in the solution – like AO, M&S, Tesco and Timpson – who know what they’re doing and are standing by, ready to create opportunities to transform young people’s futures,” Roberts said. “Government is a brilliant funder but not an operator or innovator.”

> Tim Martin, JD Wetherspoon

A long-time campaigner for bars and restaurants to be taxed the same as grocers, the founder and chairman of the pub chain argues that the current rules put his industry at a disadvantage.

The hospitality industry pays higher taxes for food and alcohol, meaning supermarket groups are able to cut prices of beer and wine, Martin said.

“It’s a principle of taxation that it should be fair and equitable and this inequality is inequitable, so Wetherspoon is calling on the new government to create a level playing field,” he said. — Bloomberg

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UK , election , Keir Starmer , Rishi Sunak , labour , conservative


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