THE LEADING business minds in Marlow came together over a bacon sandwich this morning in an event designed to boost the links between commerce and local government.
The Marlow Business Breakfast heard from MP and attorney general Dominic Grieve and Bucks entrepreneur and enterprise czar Alex Pratt on issues facing the area’s business community.
And kicking off proceedings was Marlow businesswoman Cathy Stewart, who oversees a growing empire of healthcare companies in the town including a new private GP surgery.
The morning at the Assembly Rooms brought business leaders together for a networking session after a lively Q&A session with involving all three speakers.
A joint initiative between Wycombe and District Council and Marlow Chamber of Commerce, organisers hope this will be the first of many similar events.
Chamber chairman Tim Graham said: “It has been a huge success for businesses in Marlow, but also for Wycombe District Council.
“It emphasis the important partnership that exists between the council and the business community and let’s hope it continues just as strongly."
Mr Pratt, who was awarded an OBE for services to business and education, insisted business and enterprise play a crucial role in society and must help shape our area in the face of a tough economic climate.
The committed entrepreneur, whose company make reading lights for the Space Shuttle, set up business interest and pressure group Bucks Business First, which now has over 5000 members.
He said: “The latest news (with the economy) is good but if you take a long term perspective we have been in a prosperity dive for many years now.
“Today we have a situation where business is small with a big state contribution with power in Whitehall and over dependence on London.
“The result is we are building a terrible situation for the next generation.”
Mr Pratt said that Bucks has suffered with under investment in infrastructure such as roads and fats broadband, and as the “entrepreneurial heart of Britain”, Bucks businesses can and should step in.
While green belt should be protected where possible, he said large-scale projects such as the Pinewood studios expansion should get the go ahead and that holding back on Heathrow development was “madness”.
In forming BBF, which issued over £2million in grants to businesses in the county last year, he stressed he and others were trying to find a solution and stop “blaming everybody else” for the area’s problems.
And the committed business spoke on his plans to crowd fund an evidence-based study into the pros and cons of abolishing layers of local government to form unitary authorities in Bucks, as reported in last week’s BFP.
Taking to the stage after Mr Pratt, Mr Grieve reflected on his four years in the coalition government and stressed the importance of continuing the “ruthless” deficit reduction programme devised by his cabinet colleagues.
He said in a changing world economy with emerging markets means a model of borrowing and overspending will not work in future generations.
And the Marlow MP said he was proud of his current term in office, which comes to an end next year, in which he said government spending dropped in real terms for the first time since the Second World War.
“I have to say I am proud to be a member of this coalition government. When we came into office in 2010 I am not sure people realised how close to the economic abyss we have been in our modern history.
“It was not just the banking crisis or Gordon Brown’s failures between 2001 and 2007, for large periods of time the country was living on tick.
“The western world for long periods of time had the monopoly around the world but that has been blown apart."
He added: “When I came into office I didn’t think we could achieve the savings being demanded by George Osborne and Danny Alexander.
“I didn’t think I could even deliver it in my own department and yet they have proved me wrong. Not to say it hasn’t been difficult or that there aren’t areas where services aren’t as good as it was, but it is better structured now and runs far more efficiently than before.”
He warned against a new government coming in next year to rip up his party’s deficit reduction plan as he is convinced it is answer to the county’s problems, with green shoots in the economy already starting to show.
The attorney general said the coalition government had done everything it could to help small businesses, providing fiscal incentives to boost enterprise.
He listed corporation tax reductions, the abolition of taxes on business investment under half a million pounds, the government’s business bank, an effort cut red tape and the creation of more apprenticeships for young people.
Following the presentations, a Q&A session featuring all three speakers drew questions about HS2, immigration, and young people's access to university courses