Last week the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) were at short notice invited to take a small group to meet with the Prime Minister at No.10. Led by the President, also participating were the Presidents of London, Manchester, the North East and the Director General.
We used the opportunity to give an overview of the current state of the economy, both from the national perspective of our Quarterly Economic Survey and also local conditions as represented by the individual Chambers.
We then discussed our response to the Pre Budger Review. The PM said he did not think that we were being positive enough about the measures in the announcement.
Our response was that collectively and individually Chambers had acknowledged the support measures, not least the HMRC Business Payment Support Service, Small Business Finance Scheme, the extra EIB funds and the introduction of a foreign dividend exemption for large and medium-sized businesses.
However, we did have concerns about Empty Property. The threshold should have been scrapped completely rather than being restricted to a £15,000 RV; Fuel Duty increases; and importantly the raising of National Insurance Contributions (NIC's).
He responded by saying that the fall of commodity prices would help businesses and that the increases in NIC's would only happen if it were necessary for public finances. The Government "has to show that it has sustainable public finances".
A considerable part of the meeting was spent discussing the relationship between the Banks and Business. Our team pointed out the failings at the present time and the way that business was being impacted. We did point out that the Banks were in a difficult position as they clearly needed to raise their own capital. This is clearly an issue that is exercising the Prime Minister, the Treasury and BERR, and our role in the Small Business Finance Forum was acknowledged.
Finally, we highlighted the good work that Chambers across the country are doing to help business get through the current difficulties and the real efforts that were being made to secure the future of local economies.
The PM said that he wanted to ensure that Public Sector Procurement benefited local business. It was clear from the response that Chambers were involved in a variety of initiatives to promote this. However we still believed that the Government need to exert more pressure on local public agencies.
So if you had the chance - what would you tell the Prime Minister?