Hunt v Johnson: The business view

The race to replace Theresa May as prime minister is now into its final stages as Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt go head-to-head for the Conservative leadership.

The party’s members will now choose the winner, but what do business owners in a safe Tory seat want to hear from the next occupant of 10 Downing Street?

The leafy town of Knutsford in Cheshire is in the constituency of Tatton, which has elected a Conservative member of Parliament in every election but one since it was created in 1983.

Former Work & Pensions Secretary Esther McVey is the current MP. Former MPs include ex-chancellor George Osborne.

Its town centre is full of independent companies, surrounded by farmland. With the M6 motorway passing close by, there are also several business parks in the area.

‘Planning system reform’

Paul Danson owns the architectural design firm Imagineering Global, which specialises in large-scale leisure design projects such as shopping centres, bars and restaurants.

“”Historically I’ve been a Conservative. I’m potentially still a Conservative. But what I really like is characters, so I do like Boris Johnson, I do like Nigel Farage and, everyone’ll probably hate me to say it, I do like Donald Trump, because they say it like it is.

“Jeremy Hunt reminds me of my geography teacher at school: grey suit, boring. I don’t know if he’s out of the same camp of what’s-his-name, the old grey guy off Spitting Image [John Major], but I think if I was being serious, I do like Boris Johnson. I do believe that politics has changed and I think we need someone with a ballsy approach to things.”

He says the planning system needs major reform.

“One of the things that’s a bit of a bugbear with us is the planning situation. They’re constantly going on about wanting more housing, but every time we put an application for our various projects, it gets knocked back. I’d just like to see much more consistency with planning legislation.”

‘Cut business rates and rents’

Stephen Edwards runs Stephen Edwards Electrical on King Street in the town centre.

“I vote Conservative. I’d like them to inform us and let us know that things are all going to be OK. Nobody seems to know what’s going to happen with regards to businesses and tariffs, nothing’s been clearly marked out.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty around with regards to Brexit. Not just from me, but from all businesses. However, I did vote to leave.”

But he believes other issues could be more pressing.

“Rent and rates around here are horrendous and a lot of businesses are closing.

“I think we all need a little bit of help and encouragement from the people at the top. Instead of just sending us bills all the time, they should investigate what businesses are having to struggle through.”

‘Regenerate the High Street’

Pulse of Perfumery is just around the corner on Princess Street. Melanie Seddon co-owns the scent shop with her partner.

“”I’d like a prime minister who considered how we could regenerate the High Street. We sold our home to set up this business, because we believed this type of experience could work on the High Street, but eight years down the line, we are probably worse off than we’ve ever been.

“I think from a taxation point of view, there’s lots of things that the government could look at that could mean we could actually make something of a living out of doing something we love.”

‘We need stability’

Just outside Kuntsford, in the village of Rostherne, farmer Dominic Fenton, who owns Fenton’s Farm Foods, believes the new prime minister needs to focus on getting the UK out of the EU.

“We need some stability. We need to stop all this arguing about Europe. We need to pull fingers out of the proverbial and crack on.

“Agriculture hasn’t got a clue which way it’s going. It’s going more towards a government-run thing, with giving us payments to do what they think, and a lot of the time it’s not what they think that’s right. Farmers should be left to it, like they have been years and years ago.

“Nothing ever went wrong. It’s all going wrong now that people that don’t know what they’re doing are having an opinion.”

‘Cost of working’

Emma Moore owns print and digital design company Damsel in Design. She wants the next prime minister to focus on helping parents back to work.

“We hear lots and lots of soundbites about getting women back into work, making things more equitable, but we’re not really seeing it.

“As a sole trader or a small business, you can’t claim childcare, even though it’s an absolutely essential part of getting women back into the workplace.

“The most important thing is that the government acknowledges that the cost of working is not an optional cost. If you want to work and work full-time, you have to pay for childcare.

“I spoke about it with some of my female colleagues with children and they’re spending anywhere between £400 and £900 a month on childcare. And that is in order to just do a normal nine-till-five job.

“And of course during holiday times, six-week holidays particularly, that can go up to nearly £400 a week on childcare costs if you have two or three children.”

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