Danny Alexander and Chris Pateman.

Lib Dems meet BMF

Published:  06 April, 2011

LONDON: Two Liberal Democrat Cabinet Ministers met the Builders' Merchants Federation to explain the thinking behind the Budget Statement, and the associated Plan for Growth.

The event, put on by the Liberal Democrat Party, was at the head office of Bloomberg, the financial data services provider, in the City of London.

MPs and Peers were on hand to explain party policies to an invited audience from British industries like construction.

Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills, Vince Cable MP, and Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander MP, talked to BMF managing director, Chris Pateman and BMF policy manager, Brett Amphlett, to give insight into what lay behind some of the Budget decisions.

The Business Secretary touched upon several topics relevant to merchants – like the availability of credit for projects and operations, and unconventional sources of finance. Mr Pateman took Mr Cable up on his remarks, asking him about asset-backed lending for home improvements – including the forthcoming Green Deal financial package.

Danny Alexander MP spoke about the planned reductions in corporation tax and changes to planning permission.

Vince Cable MP talked about business investment and re-aligning skills to meet the low-carbon challenge. Other questions put to the Ministers covered the carbon floor price, rising road fuel costs and environmental taxes.

After hearing from the Ministers, Chris Pateman remarked: "We are grateful to the Liberal Democrats for asking us to participate in their post-Budget discussion, as the Government in which they are part seeks to pull the country out of recession.

"We were encouraged by Budget measures like the new help for first-time buyers, the cut in road fuel duty, and the release of publicly-owned land for development.

"We also welcome the reforms to the planning system, which we believe will prove more fundamental and more far-reaching than most commentators have yet realised.

"We feel a crucial tactical opportunity was lost to really kick-start the private enterprise-led recovery we all long to see.

"A selective VAT reduction on home improvement projects, a new flexibility for local authorities to reflect householders' investments in carbon reduction with a lower rate of council tax, or even a revision of the stamp duty regime, could all have made a qualitative difference to the economy at only nominal medium-term cost to the Exchequer.

"Instead, the construction industry starts a new financial year in which we will really start to feel the effects of the £81bn package of public spending cuts, with no clear sign that government yet recognises the unique ability of the building trade to create jobs, improve the nation's infrastructure and deliver the homes the nation so sorely needs.

"We understand and applaud the Coalition's commitment to reducing the Budget deficit and stabilising the UK economy. But it's a pity the Liberal Democrats, always so visionary in opposition – and so good at advancing reasonable and costed alternatives to conventional wisdom – were not able to paint the bigger picture of a building-led-recovery into the Treasury's fiscal blueprint."

Brett Amphlett, asked the Treasury Chief Secretary about likely financing arrangements for the Green Deal.

Mr Alexander said the Government is unlikely to use the Green Investment Bank as the main route to attract corporate investors. John Thurso MP – who, like Mr Alexander, represents a Scottish Highland constituency – discussed the scope for different mortgages to pay for home improvements.

Lorely Burt, MP for Solihull, is a friend to the BMF and is the parliamentary sponsor of 'Get Britain Building'. Other Lib Dems have been visiting builders' merchants over the last two years. Among these were:

  • Deputy Prime Minister and Party Leader, Nick Clegg MP, went into the Cricklewood, London branch of Jewson in January 2011.
  • In Essex, Bob Russell MP visited Kent Blaxill's head office in Colchester last October.
  • In Cornwall, Julia Goldsworthy went to the Redruth branch of Jewson prior to the last General Election.

Other likely visits this summer include ones in East Anglia, the Thames Valley and Scotland.

"With the current Energy Bill about to begin its journey in the House of Commons, the BMF team wait to see how Lib Dem MPs take up and advocate the issues put to them on the Green Deal – and how such a policy can be shaped to the advantage of merchants and their customers," said Mr Pateman.

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