Austerity, Europe and big business: Bosses go head-to-head over elections

John Foster,MD of Fosters Bakery,Mapplewell
John Foster,MD of Fosters Bakery,Mapplewell
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The general election is looming ever closer. As the country prepares to go to the polls, The Star has approached key business leaders across South Yorkshire to ask them how the outcome of May 7 could affect businesses across the region...

‘Parties are failing needs of business’

Vince Middleton, boss of Newburgh Engineering, left, gets some instruction from second cousin Torston Middleton at the AMRC Training Centre 'Back to the Floor' session

Vince Middleton, boss of Newburgh Engineering, left, gets some instruction from second cousin Torston Middleton at the AMRC Training Centre 'Back to the Floor' session

John Foster is managing director of Fosters Bakery in Mapplewell, Barnsley, which employs 205 people and turns over £10million-a-year:

My political view is slightly left of centre, personally. But I don’t really think any political party understands business at all. There are too many career politicians.

How many have had a hard business upbringing where they have faced the issues that they are making decision about?

I’m a committed European. We sell about six per cent of our products there and that’s increasing. It means that shipping to France, Ireland and Italy is no more difficult than shipping to Wales. We sell less than one per cent to the rest of the world - Middle East and Hong Kong, where our mince pies are popular.

Julia Gash

Julia Gash

There is a lot of red tape whenever we ship a container anywhere.

Health and safety certificates and an inspection by an environmental health officer.

Taxes don’t really concern me, no matter who is in power they are going to get got. They just get you in different ways.

A year ago I had a heart attack and I was jolly glad the NHS was there to save my life.

Whenever anyone mentions tax loopholes that I could legally take advantage of I refuse. I will not deprive the NHS of funds in case it isn’t there next time.

You’ve got to look after the collective. I’m part of the workforce, that’s why I’m left of centre.

But whatever party is in, business is actually about your customers, products and suppliers. The difference between parties is miniscule.

The food industry has probably had more EU regulation that any other.

But if it didn’t come from Europe it would come from Westminster.

I have asked overseas customers why they buy food from Britain and they say, ‘because it is safe’. So actually it’s a positive. It’s been a pain getting to this stage but now we trounce the world.

A US company sent us some ingredients for one of their products. But we couldn’t use them because they weren’t safe enough, some stuff was actually banned for being carcinogenic. I don’t want to eat food that gives me that thank you. I’d rather have the EU food agency.

That’s not to say I like all regulation, some really pains me. Vicarious liability is one - I’m liable for employees even if they don’t follow my instructions. I’d vote for any political party that brought back common sense and got rid of the litigation culture.

If you slip, pick your feet up next time. You have to look after people and make them safe but stop stupidness.

My car went into the bodyshop when I scratched the bumper and they sold my name to ambulance chasers who are badgering me.

They say they have £2,600 to send to me because I suffered an injury. I didn’t.

I’m not a member of the Labour party. I’ve been to local do’s just to see what’s happening, but I’ve also been to Lib Dem and Conservative events.

But I sit better with the Labour group. They seem to be a little bit more like me. I’m not saying the others aren’t caring or jolly decent. But I have met people from the right who have been heartless and that scares me.

If they’re screwing their staff they’ll do it to me.

‘Voters don’t grasp size of challenge’

Vince Middleton is managing director of Newburgh Engineering in Rotherham:

When we had the Labour party for two terms in office they just about left the place bankrupt. The idea that we would consider electing them again when we are in such a fragile state is terrifying to be honest – you’re heading for a situation like Greece.

The Tories left the economy in a very good state. If you haven’t got any money you can’t afford social policies.

From a business point of view I would rather see us out of Europe. I wouldn’t mind being in if everyone else played by the rules. France has a subsidised manufacturing sector and does all the things they are not supposed to do. It is absolutely nationalistic in its purchasing strategy.

Germany strategically position themselves very well. They set the rules. We do no business with Europe. We sell into the UK and export globally. As a nation we could be out.

I am apolitical really. But if we got an SNP/Labour coalition the country will end up a wreck. Personally I would question where having a business in the country would be a good thing. It’s hard enough as it is – I would be thinking it’s not worth it.

Oil prices have halved in the last six months and taken $100bn out of the market - and a lot of it’s made in the UK.

Demand is down but in a buoyant economy other sectors will compensate for it. But we could be facing five, possibly 10, years of someone screwing everything up. Why would you employ people and keep a business going when the government is intent on cocking everything up?

Labour lacks credibility. The whole thing was built around PFI and pseudo-wealth that they created and they created a massive deficit. There’s been no apology.

It’ll be 2020 before we stop borrowing money and 2050 before we pay it back. Worse austerity is to come – public sector pensions are not affordable. We need to reduce the public sector enormously, it’s well and truly broken. We’ve had just five years of trying to fix a 50-year problem.

I do fear that most voters do not understand the enormity of the challenge and are only interested in making sure that they have their lifejackets and are in the life raft, only to look back and see the ship sink.

Britain needs to play a strong role - former Lib Dems MEP candidate

Julia Gash is boss of Sheffield bag firms Bag It Don’t Bin It and Talented. She once stood for the Lib Dems as an MEP:

“I would vote for them at the next election, primarily for business reasons. I’m a really strong believer that Britain needs to play a central role in Europe, at the heart of negotiations for economic prosperity and stability. More than 50 per cent of Britain’s exports are to the EU. Talented is an export-led initiative, 70 per cent is export and a third is to Europe. S0 25 per cent of total sales are to Europe. Asia is a massive market but a lot of buyers find us in Paris – they don’t come to the UK.

The Lib Dems are the only party who have been consistently strong on Europe. Labour and the Conservatives have mixed views, Labour has to be clear about committing to it.

I’m also very supportive of the free movement of people and goods. I’ve just taken on a Chinese national. It’s been hard and taken months.

A quarter of our buyers are foreign and eight fluent languages are spoken in our companies. You have to protect markets in certain countries but Europe certainly helped my business.

But that’s completely different to illegal immigration and abusing the welfare system and not contributing.

The economy is reliant on migrant labour, especially in the service industry in London and the fields and factories of England.

I campaigned for the euro many years ago and I still believe in it in this country even though it has big problems.

Certain things are not fully worked through, like Greece, but a lot of big Asian buyers want to do business in euros.

In a year’s time the majority of trade by Talented will be in euros and dollars.

Vince Cable has played an integral part in the economic recovery. The Con-Dem coalition got us to where we are and they couldn’t have done it without the Lib Dems.

Vince Cable brings gravitas, he is a central force in British politics and my preference would be for a continuation of the coalition.

Nick Clegg has also played a central role in devolution and moves to rebalance the economy away from the service sector in the South. I’m very fearful of UKIP. A lot of people respond to their gut on immigration and support UKIP.