Guernsey Press

Thank you to business

Our society is dependent on the success of business – so it’s about time we stopped taking it for granted, says Lord Digby Jones.


As we turn on the lights for the season of goodwill, I extend an early Christmas thank you to a hugely important but often neglected sector of our economy ... business, and especially this year, small- and medium-sized businesses.

This thank you should particularly come – sadly, in some cases begrudgingly – from certain parts of our society:

n From those politicians of a particular persuasion who, through socialist dogma or economic ignorance or naivety (actually, the two damagingly often go together), suspect business at best and dislike it intensely at worst and push through policies straight out of the songbook entitled ‘nice-to-have if you want a woke-based, you-can-all-have-prizes society and “they” will pay for it’;

n From the civil servants who have been working from home now for so long, no one would blame them for having forgotten the route to work (and while we’re around the tree dishing out the baubles, how about the thought that the average manager in the private sector would have to save six times as much over many decades to enjoy a pension in retirement similar to the one that will be enjoyed by their counterpart in the civil service on the same pay);

n Indeed, from all of us who, from time to time, utter that regular refrain ‘something should be done, “they” should pay for it’ when we are calling for a new this or that or the other.

Every businesswoman and man will join in with everyone on our island to thank, especially at this time of year, all those members of the police force, the nurses and doctors, the teachers and ambulance crews, the border force and the firefighters whose brilliant work enhances the quality of our lives and keeps us safe 24/7/365.

But it is worth remembering that:

All of the above costs money.

All of the above costs someone else’s money.

All of the above receive money from the huge reservoir of taxation raised every year straight from the wealth created by business.

I understand how this simple fact sits uncomfortably and annoyingly with certain folk – the sort who think that a business think-tank has ‘ants in its pants’ simply for pointing out the enormous cost to the island that will be caused by a particular proposed policy. What on earth Formicidae have to do with this debate is beyond me.

But the fact remains that without business making money, no government anywhere has any taxation to give out to anyone. When labour, risk, talent, time, reputation and capital are fused together in the pursuit of making money in a democratic society, taxation flows – either directly from the profit that is made or indirectly from the wages of those who are employed and paid out of those profits. And when those profits or wages are spent, more profits and wages are created ... and more tax. And it is that tax, coming from the risks taken and hard work delivered by business and those who work in it, which pays for our public sector, for our politicians and for our civil service.

One in seven of the UK workforce is self-employed. Yet, judging by the way so many politicians show by what they do, not what they say, their contribution to the economy is taken for granted. Our island is no exception – so many politicians and civil servants appear to treat small businesswomen and men as what Paul Johnson of The Institute of Fiscal Studies observed is ‘somewhere between an afterthought and an inconvenience’. The creators of so many jobs and tax revenue go unrecognised far too often. They are taken for granted. There is an attitude that ‘they will always be there’ and they can be loaded up with more and more regulation, making them uncompetitive, rendering the job they do more difficult day by day.

Many of small businesses’ larger cousins here are also direct generators of tax revenues. Every sinew should be strained by politicians and civil servants to make Guernsey the location of choice in a brutally-competitive globalised economy.

Everything should be done, every time, everywhere to ensure that every would-be investor is persuaded to create wealth here and nowhere else. That’s how to get hold of the dosh so many people want the States to spend. Yet so often, the correlation between the two seems to pass by those in whose power lies so much opportunity. Indeed, whenever a possible inward investor (or existing business that wishes to expand or develop a new project) sets out its stall, those in power and those with influence legislatively or in implementation should go the extra mile to put the ball in the net.

Dame Kate Bingham, the leadership talent behind the stupendously successful vaccine roll-out in the UK, said of the machinery of government: ‘It is dominated by process rather than outcome, causing delay and inertia. There is an obsessive fear of personal error and criticism, a culture of ... risk aversion that stifles initiative and encourages foot-dragging.’

Politicians should not take business for granted – that generator of employment and payer, whether directly or indirectly, of tax is mobile and flexible and one day just might not be here to burden down and take for granted any more.

Civil servants and many commentators in the public arena must stop seeing business as the enemy. Its innovation (taking ideas to market and making them work in practice), its appetite for hard, often poorly remunerated, work, its focus on outcomes not process, its sheer common sense that is not blinded by an all-too-common frightening degree of politically-correct wokery … all of this should be embraced by the public sector and turned to the advantage of everyone.

There is nothing wrong with the profit motive. There is nothing wrong with legislators putting wealth creation first in their impact assessments. ‘Does this help row the boat more quickly?’ is a legitimate question, especially at a time of economic recovery, when we need all hands to the pump, when we need the penny (and pound for that matter) to drop that the island has to compete daily in a ruthless globalised economy and when we must realise that this is no time to allow indulgence of policies which positively harm business rather than stimulate the wealth and job creators to do their thing.

Socially-inclusive wealth creation should be the number one gimme in our society. Businesses of all sizes and types should work hard at training their people every day, they should respect our planet and the environment in which they operate and show by their actions that they ‘get it’, and they should reach out, down, round and under those who, in our often careless society, simply can’t, and take them to a place where they can.

But then, this Christmastime, they deserve in return a big ‘thank you’. For if it wasn’t for business, there wouldn’t be the society so many take for granted, there wouldn’t be the Guernsey so many want to preserve, for there simply wouldn’t be the cash to pay for it.