I was lucky enough to attend the CBI
conference in London last week after the business school had managed to lay their hands on some last minute tickets. Despite the very early (and cold) Monday morning start in Durham, the train whisked me southwards to the Grosvenor hotel (just) in time to hear from the big hitters of the political and business world on the issues and opportunities we all face.
Prime Minister David Cameron
opened the show and delivered a very optimistic speech, emphasising growth and entrepreneurship as the solution to our current economic woes. He announced investment in “innovation centres” and additional funds for the wind farm industry. Next up was the former Canadian prime minister Paul Martin, who drew upon his experience in making drastic deficit reducing spending cuts in the mid 1990s
and our current government would probably have been reassured to hear him advocate the “hard and fast” approach.
Labour leader Ed Miliband
followed and with five years of opposition ahead announced he was keen to open dialogue with the business community about policies for the future. He supported low-carbon growth rather than low growth and green issues were certainly a theme of many of the questions from the floor throughout the day. Miliband was also asked by one delegate to comment upon Sir Phillip Green’s recommendation to extend payment terms to government suppliers, and his opposition brought some approving murmurs from the hall.
Bob Dudley, the new chief exec of BP
, took to the stage next and was quite bullish in his defence of BP's actions over the Gulf of Mexico spill. Interestingly he claimed the resulting clean-up and containment operation was the largest maritime action in history, bigger even than the Normandy landings.
After a smorgasbord lunch (a particularly nice fish pie) and a picture with the Premier League Trophy (Barclays
were a sponsor of the event) I took my seat for the afternoon session. Vince Cable
, wearing the most prominent reading glasses I've ever seen, took to the stand next. He commented on the banks need to open lines of credit to small businesses and announced the merger of the competition functions of the Competition Commission and the Office of Fair Trading to try to aim to improve the number of investigations that can be made.
Finally there was a panel debate on growth chaired by Jon Snow
and the obligatory colourful tie. I was interested by some of the comments made by Matt Brittin, the head of Google in the UK
, and in particular his comparison between the internet and electricity as an “enabler of business”.