Opinion

Ahead of the general election, businesses need to throw the kitchen sink at politicians

4 min read

15 December 2014

Once the festive season has passed the battle lines will be drawn and the country will be in full election mode.

Between the dawn of 2015 and the beginning of May we will all be bombarded with pledges, proposals and promises that will supposedly improve the business landscape and every other element of our lives.

However, the next five months also presents the opportunity for the business community to get its message across to politicians. 

Of course, the business groups such as the CBI, Chambers of Commerce and the Institute of Directors will represent their members well and put across the case for enterprise using the usual lobbying tactics.

But there is an opportunity for businesses on the front line to show politicians what the world is really like and demonstrate how their policies can be shaped to benefit the 5.2m SME businesses that form the backbone of the economy. 

During the election campaign politicians of every colour will want to be seen in and among the electorate and this is the chance businesses need to take. 

They’ll be looking for a good photo opportunity; businesses should be looking to give them a reality check that can have a positive influence on their policies.

As regular readers of my column will know, I am a passionate campaigner for apprenticeships. Businesses like mine can’t survive without them, but for too long they have been neglected by the education system and successive governments.

So, as well as making my case at political functions and media opportunities I decided to take the battle to the front line, in this case, the party conference season.

Most successfully, we took a stand at the Conservative party conference to highlight my campaign for a fully-funded national apprenticeship scheme. But we didn’t just stand there handing out leaflets and free gifts – we actively engaged with delegates.

How? We pretty much threw the kitchen sink at demonstrating the skills of apprentices to everyone from the prime minster and members of the cabinet through to grassroots Tory activists. 

We ran the Pimlico Plumbers’ Plumbing Challenge where delegates were taught how to unblock a sink by two of our young apprentices and then competed against each other to see who could complete it in the quickest time.

It was really enjoyable and everyone got into the spirit of it. But behind the fun was a serious message.

It’s all very well to talk about the importance of apprenticeships at a drinks reception, but on that Monday, in Birmingham, David Cameron was the apprentice, and experienced first-hand what learning a vocational skill on the job, from a skilled tradesperson is like.

That’s why we went to conference, and that’s why we took the kitchen sink!

So if there is an opportunity to welcome a candidate, cabinet or shadow cabinet politician into your business, don’t just give them the talk and tour. Find something that they can do that shows them your business is important to the economy and to job creation opportunities. 

Don’t just greet them with a handshake, put a tool in their hand and show them what it’s like at the coal face.